The health terms you might hear if you’re diagnosed with diabetes—and what they mean.
You probably know someone with diabetes, since there are 26 million people with the disease in the United States. But how much do you actually know about diabetes? There are a lot of intimidating words associated with this condition that you may or may not fully understand.
“This is a foreign world to a lot of people,” says diabetes educator Marjorie Cypress, American Diabetes Association president-elect for health care and education. “If they’ve never had this health issue, why would they know those words?”
One of the most important things to sort out is the different types of diabetes.
Type 1: People who have Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, do not produce insulin, which is needed for your body to use glucose for energy, so they need to take insulin to regulate their blood sugar level.
Type 2: The most common form of diabetes is Type 2; with this form, you either don’t produce enough insulin or your body doesn’t use it efficiently enough.
Gestational: Gestational diabetes affects some pregnant women about halfway through their pregnancies. Women who have gestational diabetes are at increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Since it can be overwhelming to be diagnosed with a condition like diabetes, experts like Cypress encourage people to not be embarrassed to speak up and ask questions. Ask about possible complications; ask for more information about your medications; ask if you’re doing what you need to do to effectively manage your diabetes.
“Try to make sure you understand what is being said to you,” Cypress says.
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More Key Diabetes Health Terms
A1C: your average blood glucose control for the past 2 to 3 months; this is reported as a percent; it doesn’t measure your day-to-day control
Blood glucose meter: a machine that tests a drop of your blood to gauge your blood glucose level
Blood glucose: a type of sugar in your blood that is a source of fuel
Diabetic retinopathy: damage caused to your eyes by a history of uncontrolled or poorly controlled blood sugar levels
eAG: estimated average glucose; this is a newer way to report A1C that uses the same units (mg/dl) as a glucose meter
Glucagon: a hormone produced in the pancreas; also a medicine used to raise very low blood sugar
Glucose: sugar produced when your body breaks down food
Hyperglycemia: when your blood sugar levels are too high; this usually happens when you don’t have enough insulin or your body’s not using it effectively
Hypoglycemia: low blood sugar; when levels get too low in a person with diabetes, it can be very dangerous
Insulin: blood sugar; your body needs this to process glucose and use it as energy
Islets: cells inside the pancreas that produce insulin
Ketones: substances produced when fat cells break down in the blood
Metabolic syndrome: a group of conditions that put you at increased risk for diabetes and heart disease; one of the conditions is elevated blood sugar levels
Neuropathy: tingling or numbness or a lack of sensation, often in the extremities
Prediabetes: a condition when your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are higher than normal but haven’t quite reached the threshold to be diagnosed as diabetes
Definitions courtesy of the Plain Language Medical Dictionary, which is part of the Michigan Health Literacy Awareness project, MedlinePlus, and the American Diabetes Association