26 Diabetic Terms To Know

A list of common words and phrases associated with diabetes to help you better understand and communicate with yourself and those around you.

Feeling overwhelmed by all of the terms thrown at you by your doctor, your own research, and society as a whole? Below, I’ve included a list of all of the terms that I wish someone had guided me through when I was first diagnosed with the disease. I’ve also found that it has helped those close to diabetics understand the situation a little better and makes communicating easier. Are there any terms you’re still unsure of? Take a look through this list and leave a comment at the end if there’s anymore and I’ll be sure to help get your questions answered.


  • A1C – also known as hemoglobin A1C, is a test commonly used to determine your three-month average blood sugar. It measures the amount of hemoglobin and sugar bonds in your blood.
Normal<5.7%
Pre-diabetic5.7 – 6.4%
Diabetic>6.4%
General look at how an A1C can be interpreted
  • Autoimmune disease – any disease or disorder that results from your immune system attacking your own tissue.
  • Basal Insulin – sometimes called background insulin, this is usually taken every 24-36 hours to regulate your blood sugar throughout the day/night.
  • Beta Cells – the cells within the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin. Type-1 diabetes can be attributed to the destruction of these cells by antibodies.
  • Blood Sugar Level – the amount of glucose present in your blood. Measured in either mg/dL or mmol/l.
  • Bolus Insulin – this is short-acting and usually taken during mealtime or to correct for high blood sugar.
  • Carbohydrates – a macronutrient comprised of saccharides that are broken down into simple sugars that your body uses for energy. Your body takes longer to digest complex carbs (like starch), meaning your blood sugar may not spike as quickly as with simple carbs like table sugar.
  • Continuous Glucose Monitor or CGM – A device attached to your skin that enables you to have a real time look at your current blood sugar and to better treat yourself. There is a slight delay because it measures the glucose in the interstitial fluid in your skin, which receives glucose after it is digested and enters the blood.
  • Dawn Phenomenon – occurs in the early morning when your body releases extra hormones like cortisol. This triggers your liver to produce more glucose, likely for the purpose of preparing your body for an awake, locomotive state. The result is higher blood sugar despite no food intake.
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis or DKA – a very serious complication that occurs when your body burns fat instead of glucose because of a lack of insulin. Your liver turns fat into ketones which is normally used by your muscles as fuel; however when your body produces too many ketones, your blood can become acidic. DKA requires immediate medical care.
  • Dr. Frederick Banting – along with Charles Best and JJR Macleod, are credited with discovering and isolating insulin.
  • Endocrinologist – a medical professional that specializes in the endocrine system and your body’s hormones. Diabetes is among the most common disease they help treat.
  • Fat – a macronutrient that your body uses as energy storage. Fat is broken down into fatty acids and glycerol and converted into energy. Since fat does not mix well with your gastrointestinal tract, it slows down digestion.
  • Gestational Diabetes – consistently high blood sugar in pregnant women. This usually dissipates after birth, but leads to higher chance of developing type-2 diabetes.
  • Glucagon – an emergency substance given to treat severely low blood sugar. Found as a liquid solution that is given via injection or a powder that can be mixed and injected or administered nasally.
  • Glucose – a simple sugar that provides our body with energy.
  • Glycosis – the first metabolic process in turning glucose into energy.
  • Hyperglycemia – a continuously high measurement of blood sugar. Generally >126mg/dL or 7.0mmol/l. Persistent hyperglycemia is a strong indicator of diabetes.
  • Hypoglycemia – a drop in blood sugar below 70mg/dL (3.9mmol/l) where you may feel shakiness, sweatiness, confusion, or in more drastic instances, loss of consciousness.
  • Insulin – the hormone created in your pancreas that regulates glucose and allows your cells to use it. If your body becomes resistant to or stops producing insulin, you may require an external source. Learn more here.
  • Islet of Langerhans – the region of the pancreas that contain its hormone-producing cells (like beta cells.)
  • Lancet – a needle used to prick your skin (usually the finger) to obtain a drop of blood for testing. Used with a lancing device.
  • Multiple Daily Injections or MDI – a treatment regiment taken by type-1 diabetics that involves using both basal and bolus insulin injections throughout the day to regulate blood sugar.
  • Protein – a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids and serves a myriad of purposes in your body. All but two of the amino acids can be converted into glucose which your body can then use for fuel.
  • Time In Range – the time your blood sugar stays within the target range decided on between you and your medical team. An example would be the time spent between 70 and 150mg/dL.
  • Unicorn – a pleasant moment for diabetics when they catch a blood sugar level of exactly 100mg/dL on their meter.
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