The Lingo

If you overheard a conversation between a diabetic and his/her endocrinologist, you quite possibly might think they’re speaking in a foreign language. Here are some of the common terms that frequent a diabetic’s vocabulary and may pop up from time to time in this blog:

Note:  Thanks to the American Diabetes Association for official definitions. My interpretations are noted in […].

A test that measures a person’s average blood glucose level over the past 2 to 3 months.  Also called hemoglobin A1C or glycosylated hemoglobin, the test shows the amount of glucose that sticks to the red blood cell, which is proportional to the amount of glucose in the blood. [One of the best tools you have for managing your diabetes. Don’t be afraid of it!]

A steady trickle of low levels of insulin, such as that used in insulin pumps. [Not the herb]

An extra amount of insulin taken to cover an expected rise in blood glucose, often related to a meal or snack. [You’d think by now I’d never forget to bolus, but…]

Blood Glucose
The main sugar found in the blood and the body’s main source of energy. [So it’s not necessarily a bad thing]

Blood Glucose Level
The amount of glucose in a given amount of blood. It is noted in milligrams in a deciliter, or mg/dL. The normal range is 80-120 mg/DL. [This is why I am literally sweeter than the next person]

Blood Glucose Meter
A small, portable machine used by people with diabetes to check their blood glucose levels. After pricking the skin with a lancet, one places a drop of blood on a test strip in the machine. The meter soon displays the blood glucose level as a number on the meter’s digital display. [Don’t leave home without it!]

BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen)
A waste product in the blood from the breakdown of protein. The kidneys filter blood to remove urea. As kidney function decreases, the BUN levels increase. [Luckily, my BUNs have always been good]

One of the three main nutrients in food. Foods that provide carbohydrate are starches, vegetables, fruits, dairy products and sugars. [AKA carbs and no, eliminating carbs from my diet will not make my diabetes go away]

A Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) determines glucose levels on a continuous basis (every few minutes). A typical system consists of:

  • a disposable glucose sensor placed just under the skin, which is worn for a few days until replacement
  • a link from the sensor to a non-implanted transmitter which communicates to a radio receiver
  • an electronic receiver worn like a pager (or insulin pump) that displays glucose levels with nearly continuous updates, as well as monitors rising and falling trends

[I’m lucky enough to use both an insulin pump and a CGM]

A waste product from protein in the diet and from the muscles of the body. Creatinine is removed from the body by the kidneys; as kidney disease progresses, the level of creatinine in the blood increases. [Just wait ’til you get to do a 24-hour Creatine Clearance Test – fun, fun, fun!]

Diabetes Mellitus
A condition characterized by hyperglycemia resulting from the body’s inability to use blood glucose for energy. In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin and therefore blood glucose cannot enter the cells to be used for energy. In Type 2 diabetes, either the pancreas does not make enough insulin or the body is unable to use insulin correctly. [A diagnosis, not a character flaw]

Diabetic Coma
A reversible form of coma experienced by people with diabetes, most often caused by severe hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis.  It is a medical emergency. [Happy to report, no experience with this to date]

Diabetic Ketoacidosis is an emergency condition in which extremely high blood glucose levels, along with a severe lack of insulin, result in the breakdown of body fat for energy and an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine. Signs of DKA are nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, fruity breath odor and rapid breathing. Untreated DKA can lead to coma and death. [Again, no experience with this to date]

A doctor who treats people who have endocrine gland problems such as diabetes. [Your endocrinologist can be your biggest ally. Don’t be afraid of him/her!]

Fasting Blood Sugar is a person’s blood glucose level after the person has not eaten for 8 to 12 hours (usually overnight). [The bane of my existence, as this, for me, is rarely in the normal range]

Excessive blood glucose. Fasting hyperglycemia is blood glucose above a desirable level after a person has fasted for at least 8 hours. [Pretty much a constant for me].

A condition that occurs when one’s blood glucose is lower than normal, usually less than 70 mg/dL. Signs include hunger, nervousness, shakiness, perspiration, dizziness or light-headedness, sleepiness, and confusion. If left untreated, hypoglycemia may lead to unconsciousness. [Did they mention extreme grouchiness as a sign?]

A hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. The beta cells of the pancreas make insulin. When the body cannot make enough insulin, it is taken by injection or through use of an insulin pump. [My drug of choice].

Insulin Pump
An insulin-delivering device about the size of a deck of cards that can be worn on a belt or kept in a pocket. An insulin pump connects to narrow, flexible plastic tubing that ends with a needle inserted just under the skin. Users set the pump to give a steady trickle or basal amount of insulin continuously throughout the day. Pumps release bolus doses of insulin (several units at a time) at meals and at times when blood glucose is too high, based on programming done by the user. [The pump + A CGM + My brain = My external pancreas]

Interstitial Glucose
The level of glucose in the interstitial fluid, which is liquid found between the cells of the body. A CGM measures the interstitial glucose level. [This is not the same as your blood glucose level, although can be very close. You still need to stick you fingers to confirm hypo- or hyperglycemia before taking any action.]

A chemical produced when there is a shortage of insulin in the blood and the body breaks down body fat for energy. High levels of ketones can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis and coma. [You check your ketone levels by checking your urine]

A spring-loaded device used to prick the skin with a small needle to obtain a drop of blood for blood glucose monitoring. [The ouchie]

Postprandial Hyperglycemia
Blood glucose above a desirable level 1 to 2 hours after a person has eaten. [Another bane of my existence].

An eye disease that is caused by damage to the small blood vessels in the retina and may result in loss of vision. [Preventing this is why I’m *supposed* to go to the opthalmologist once a year]

Type 1 Diabetes
A condition characterized by high blood glucose levels caused by a total lack of insulin. Occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. T1D develops most often in young people but can appear in adults. [That’s me!]

Type 1.5 Diabetes
Also known as Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults (LADA), Type 1.5 Diabetes is a more slowly progressing variation of Type 1 diabetes and is often misdiagnosed as type 2. [In hindsight, this is most likely my original diagnosis, although it wasn’t identified until 1993 – and I was diagnosed in 1983]

Type 2 Diabetes
A condition characterized by high blood glucose levels caused by either a lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently. T2D develops most often in middle-aged and older adults but can appear in young people. [I have moved on]


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