Glossary of Diabetes Terms | Cornerstones4Care®


A test that gives you a picture of your average blood sugar level over the past 2 to 3 months. The results show how well your diabetes is being controlled. The A1C test does this by measuring the amount of sugar (glucose) that has attached to the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. More sugar (glucose) means a higher A1C.

“Autoimmune" refers to diseases in which the body thinks its own cells and tissues don't belong and attacks them. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. The immune system wrongly destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This leads to lower-than-normal insulin in the body. The causes of autoimmune diseases are not known.

Back to Top

basal insulin
See long-acting insulin.

beta cells
Special cells in the pancreas (in the islets of Langerhans) that make and release insulin in response to sugar (glucose) levels. In people with diabetes, the beta cells release less insulin than required or none at all.

See metformin.

blood sugar (or blood glucose)
The main sugar (glucose) found in the blood, and the body’s main source of energy.

blood sugar readings (or blood glucose readings)
The amount of sugar in a given amount of blood. It is measured in milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL. A blood glucose goal for people with type 2 diabetes is 80 to 130 mg/dL before meals, less than 180 mg/dL 2 hours after meals.

bolus insulin (prandial or mealtime insulin)
An extra amount of insulin taken to cover an expected rise in blood sugar during or after a meal or snack. It can also be taken when blood sugar is high.

Back to Top

Carbohydrates are the main kind of food that raise blood sugar levels. Your digestive system changes carbohydrates into glucose (sugar), and then uses this sugar as a source of energy for your cells.

There are 3 main types of carbohydrates in food: starches (complex carbohydrates), sugars (simple carbohydrates), and fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts, that you can’t digest.

A type of fat made in the liver that is carried through your body. Two very important carriers of cholesterol are high-density lipoproteins and low-density lipoproteins. It's important to have healthy levels of both.

  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL), often called "good" cholesterol, is a type of fat that takes extra cholesterol in the blood to the liver to be removed from your body. In general, the higher your HDL, the better.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, is a type of fat that takes cholesterol throughout the body to help with cell repair but can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. In general, the lower your LDL, the better. Reaching your LDL target helps to protect your heart and blood vessels.

Back to Top

diabetes or diabetes mellitus
A disease characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) that occurs when your body does not make enough insulin, makes no insulin at all, or doesn't respond to insulin properly.

diabetes educator (DE)
A health care professional who specializes in all areas of diabetes care and helps you understand how your medicines work, how to check your blood sugar, how to take care of problems with your medicine, and how to make meal and action plans.  

diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
DKA is a condition that occurs when there is a buildup of ketones in the blood. Ketones are made when the body uses fat for energy instead of sugar. This can happen when the ratio of glucose to insulin in the body is improper, so your cells don’t get the sugar they need to use for energy. 

fasting plasma glucose (FPG)
A blood test to determine the blood sugar level after the person has not eaten for 8 to 12 hours (usually overnight).

Back to Top

gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)
A type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and ends at birth. Women with gestational diabetes are at high risk of developing diabetes later. It generally develops at about the 24th week of pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes may not experience any outward symptoms. An oral glucose tolerance test is done to diagnose gestational diabetes.

GLP-1 is a hormone produced in the gut that helps the pancreas release insulin to move sugar from the blood into the cells. It stimulates the beta cells in the pancreas to release insulin when blood sugar is high after you eat. It also helps to lower the amount of sugar produced by the liver and slows down the emptying of the stomach.

A hormone released by the alpha cells in the pancreas that helps release sugar stored in the liver when your blood sugar levels are too low. Glucagon is available in injectable form and can be used to quickly raise blood sugar in severe hypoglycemia.

Sugar. “Blood glucose” is another way to say “blood sugar.”

glucose tablets
Chewable tablets made of pure sugar. Depending on the brand of the tablet, you may need to eat 3 to 4 tablets to get 15 grams of carbohydrates. These tablets are used to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). You can get them at your local pharmacy.

glycemic index (GI)
A ranking of carbohydrate-containing foods, based on the food’s effect on blood glucose when compared with a standard reference food. Foods with a high glycemic index raise blood glucose more rapidly than foods with a medium or low glycemic index.

Back to Top


A substance made by the endocrine glands in the body that controls the activity of other cells or organs.

High blood sugar.

Low blood sugar.

hypoglycemia unawareness
A state in which a person does not feel or recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). People who have frequent episodes of low blood sugar may no longer be able to recognize the warning signs of hypoglycemia.

Back to Top

A hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas that helps sugar move from the blood into the cells. Insulin is also an injectable medicine that is used to treat diabetes by controlling the level of sugar in the blood.  

insulin analog
A drug made from a slightly modified version of human insulin. This allows the insulin to have different absorption characteristics that may help to manage diabetes more effectively.  

insulin pen
A device for injecting insulin that looks like an ink pen. Insulin pens either hold replaceable cartridges of insulin or are disposable and prefilled.

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. Most insulin pumps connect to narrow, flexible plastic tubing that ends with a needle inserted just under the skin. Users set the pump to give a steady amount of insulin continuously throughout the day and night. Pumps release bolus doses of insulin at meals and at times when blood sugar is too high, based on programming and input done by the user.

Back to Top

See diabetic ketoacidosis.

Ketones are organic compounds produced when the body breaks down fats and fatty acids to use as fuel. This is most likely to occur when the body does not have enough sugar or carbohydrates or the body cannot use sugar effectively. Because high levels of ketones are dangerous, a urine test is one way to check the level of ketones in your body.

Back to Top


long-acting insulin (basal insulin)
A type of injected insulin that is absorbed slowly and starts to lower blood sugar within 2 to 4 hours after injection and can last up to 24 hours. This gives the body a low level of insulin to manage blood sugar between meals.

Back to Top

metformin (biguanide)
An oral medicine in a class of drugs called biguanides used to treat type 2 diabetes. Metformin lowers blood sugar by reducing the amount of sugar produced by the liver and helping the body respond better to the insulin. It may also lower insulin resistance in the muscles.

Back to Top

Nephropathy, also called kidney disease, occurs when the filtering system within the kidneys breaks down. Diabetes and hypertension can cause damage to the kidneys until they are no longer able to remove waste and fluids from the bloodstream. 

Back to Top

oral antidiabetic drug (OAD)
Medicine taken by mouth for people with type 2 diabetes.  An OAD acts to lower high blood sugar levels in addition to following a meal plan and physical activity.

oral hypoglycemic
 oral antidiabetic drug.

Back to Top

A large gland behind the stomach. The pancreas not only makes pancreatic juices, or enzymes, to help the body digest food, but it also makes hormones such as insulin and glucagon, which are important for glucose metabolism. 

The clear, yellowish fluid portion of the blood in which cells are suspended.

postprandial plasma glucose (PPG)
The blood sugar level taken after eating. Also called postprandial blood glucose.

A condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with prediabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and vascular disease. You may have prediabetes if your fasting blood sugar level is testing between 100 and 125 mg/dL or your 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) result is between 140 and 199 mg/dL. A prediabetic A1C range may be 5.7% to 6.4%. 

Back to Top

rapid-acting insulin (fast-acting insulin)
Rapid-acting or fast-acting insulin begins to work quickly after injection to provide an extra amount of insulin to treat the expected rise in blood sugar related to eating a meal or snack.  

Back to Top

SGLT2 inhibitors
Sodium-glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) works in the kidney to reabsorb glucose. SGLT2 inhibitors are a new class of oral medication that blocks this action, allowing excess glucose to be eliminated in the urine.

A class of oral drugs used to treat diabetes. Sulfonylureas lower blood sugar levels by stimulating the pancreas to produce and release more insulin. Generally, people take sulfonylureas once or twice a day before meals.

Back to Top

thiazolidinediones (TZDs)
Improve the liver, muscle and fat cells' response to insulin, meaning more sugar leaves the blood and enters the muscles and fat (where it belongs). 

A kind of fat normally found in the body that comes from the foods you eat. Triglycerides are needed for energy, but at high levels, they can raise your chances for a heart attack or stroke.

type 1 diabetes
Once called juvenile diabetes, this disease occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or no insulin at all to keep blood sugar within normal range. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes need to inject insulin on a regular basis. About 5% to 10% of people with diabetes in the United States have type 1 diabetes.

type 2 diabetes
Occurs when muscles, liver, and fat cells cannot respond to insulin normally (called “insulin resistance”), the pancreas cannot make enough insulin, or both, leading to high levels of glucose in the blood. About 90% to 95% of people in the United States with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.

Back to Top