Diabetes Terms

Stepping into the “Diabetes World” does not mean you need to learn a new language, though it can seem that way at times. Below, I’ve defined some common words you may come across in your diabetes health appointments, diabetes education, or just in conversation.

Diabetes lingo, acronyms, and abbreviations can make your head spin!

See below for a list of common diabetes-world terms.

Blood Glucose (BG)

The amount of sugar in your blood, measured in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) in the US and measured in mmol/L (millimoles per litre) in much of Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. There are many online conversion calculators to translate between the two measurements. Everybody has sugar in their blood and everybody’s BG fluctuates, mostly due to eating food with carbohydrates. People with Diabetes sometimes have too much or too little sugar in their blood, which, at extreme levels, can be dangerous to one’s health.

BG Meter

A small, portable device that measures blood sugar by using a small drop of blood. Every person who has any form of diabetes should have and use a BG meter at home and on-the-go as needed. BG Meters require test strips, on which you apply the blood drop.

Blood Sugar (BS)

Same as Blood Glucose (see above).

BG Meter Test Strips

Small, rectangular, flimsy strips that must be inserted to the end of a BG meter. Different brands can yield different degrees of accuracy. These can be purchased over the counter or with a prescription from your healthcare provider. Usually less expensive when purchased through insurance and prescription. Expired test strips may not yield accurate readings.

Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c or A1c)

A clinical test showing how “sugar-coated” your red blood cells are, which gives an idea of how effective your diabetes management practices have been. HbA1c is usually done at every diabetes clinic visit, or every 3 – 4 months. Can be measured by blood draw or fingerstick. Historically seen as the gold standard to measure average blood sugars, but now Time In Range is starting to take its place. This number can be sensitive, such as the number of your weight or a test score. Do not feel obligated to share or discuss your A1c with anyone other than your healthcare provider and medical team. Just as important to know, your A1c does not define you! Your A1c can change, especially with the right mix of medication, discipline, and healthy behaviors.

Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM)

A small device worn on the body consistently for 10 – 14 days that continuously measures your BGs every 5 minutes or so without the need for pricking one’s finger constantly. Totally waterproof and able to be worn in the shower, swimming pool, etc. Displays your current BG number and an arrow indicating if BG is rising, falling, or stable. This display is on a cell phone app and/or a separate receiving device with a screen. Kept close by at all times to receive BG readings. There are different brands of CGMs that may have slight variations in how they are worn, inserted, feel, and cost. The USFDA approves all these devices before they are available to the public.

Time in Range (TIR)

Percentage format showing how much of the time in a 24-hour period your BGs are within your target range, such as 80 – 120. Quickly becoming the gold standard of measuring blood sugar management, more so than HbA1c. Looking at your Time In Range can help you and your diabetes team to figure if your food intake, exercise, medication doses may need to be changed in dosage, timing, etc. TIR is often looked at in coordination with charts and graphs of your CGM or BG Meter to see what your usual blood sugars are at different times of day, such as morning, afternoon, evening, overnight. Time In Range can change depending on how many days you are looking at. For example: Jane’s blood sugars are between 70 and 180, 60% of the time over the last 2 weeks. But looking at Jane’s last 4 weeks, her TIR is 80%. It would seem the most recent 2 weeks have been more challenging for Jane to keep her BGs in range.

Insulin

A hormone usually produced by the body in the pancreas. Insulin takes the sugar in your blood and turns it into fuel or energy for you. For people with Type 1 Diabetes (and some with Type 2 Diabetes), the body cannot make enough insulin, requiring insulin to be taken by injection or pump. Insulin must be taken subcutaneously (under the skin, in more fatty areas, not directly into muscle). All people with confirmed Type 1 Diabetes must take insulin. Without insulin, you would feel sluggish, tired, fatigued, and the sugar amount in the blood would continue to rise.

Insulin Pump

A small device worn on the body that delivers insulin every hour and can be used to give small bursts, or boluses, at mealtimes or when blood sugar is too high. Also known as CSII (Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion). For some, using an insulin pump provides more flexibility to take smaller or more exact amounts of insulin and to change the amounts throughout the day as needed – especially helpful with exercise and fatty foods. The USFDA approves all these devices before they are available to the public.

Diabetes Burnout

The feeling of being tired and unmotivated to tend to diabetes, including but not limited to checking blood sugars, taking diabetes medications as instructed, adhering to a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Diabetes Burnout is completely normal!

Person with Diabetes (PWD)

A person who has diabetes. Using this term is more sensitive than saying “diabetic” in that their identity as a person is not just having diabetes or being diabetic. Much as how someone who has cancer simply just has cancer, which is one part of them. You would not refer to them them as cancerous or canceritic.

Diabetes

Pre-Diabetes – your healthcare provider may have used this term after looking at your lab results. You’re on track to Type 2 Diabetes unless things change. Ask your healthcare provider what s/he would like you to specifically change (diet? weight? exercise? other?).

Type 1 (T1D) – an autoimmune condition in which the body mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, halting the body’s ability to make insulin. Type 1 can be diagnosed at any age but is most commonly seen in children around ages 7 to 12; T1D was formerly known as juvenile diabetes. Caused by both genetics and environment, though the exact environmental factor is still unknown. About 85% of people with T1D have no family history of T1D.

Type 2 (T2D) – a condition, usually diagnosed in older adults, in which the body either cannot produce enough insulin or has trouble using/identifying the insulin it does produce. Depending on the patient, T2D can be managed through any combination of diet, exercise, oral medications, injectable medications, possibly including insulin. T2D is more genetically linked than T1D, meaning family history plays a stronger role in T2D.

Gestational Diabetes (GD) – elevated blood sugars in pregnancy. Some women first develop elevated blood sugars in pregnancy and other women may have already had elevated blood sugars prior to pregnancy, but could first be noticed during pregnancy due to increased medical tests and appointments. Either way, gestational diabetes should be taken seriously and closely followed by your OB/GYN and/or Endocrinology team. Women with GD may or may not need medications, possibly including insulin, during pregnancy. The main target is to keep blood sugars from becoming too elevated.

Type 3 – someone who loves a person with T1D or T2D. My spouse is a Type 3!