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Diabetes Terminology




See: Diabetic ketoacidosis.

Ketone Bodies

Chemicals that the body makes when there is not enough insulin in the blood and it must break down fat for its energy. Ketone bodies can poison and even kill body cells. When the body does not have the help of insulin, the ketones build up in the blood and then "spill" over into the urine so that the body can get rid of them. The body can also rid itself of one type of ketone, called acetone, through the lungs. This gives the breath a fruity odor. Ketones that build up in the body for a long time lead to serious illness and coma. See also: Diabetic ketoacidosis.


Having ketone bodies in the urine; a warning sign of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).


A condition of having ketone bodies build up in body tissues and fluids. The signs of ketosis are nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Ketosis can lead to ketoacidosis.

Kidney Disease

Any one of several chronic conditions that are caused by damage to the cells of the kidney. People who have had diabetes for a long time may have kidney damage. Also called nephropathy.


Two organs in the lower back that clean waste and poisons from the blood. The kidneys are shaped like two large beans, and they act as the body's filter. They also control the level of some chemicals in the blood such as hydrogen, sodium, potassium, and phosphate.

Kidney Threshold

The point at which the blood is holding too much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) and the kidneys "spill" the excess sugar into the urine. See also: Renal threshold.

Kussmaul Breathing

The rapid, deep, and labored breathing of people who have ketoacidosis or who are in a diabetic coma. Kussmaul breathing is named for Adolph Kussmaul, the 19th century German doctor who first noted it. Also called "air hunger."



Labile Diabetes

A term used to indicate when a person's blood glucose (sugar) level often swings quickly from high to low and from low to high. Also called brittle diabetes.

Lactic Acidosis

The buildup of lactic acid in the body. The cells make lactic acid when they use glucose (sugar) for energy. If too much lactic acid stays in the body, the balance tips and the person begins to feel ill. The signs of lactic acidosis are deep and rapid breathing, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Lactic acidosis may be caused by diabetic ketoacidosis or liver or kidney disease.


A type of sugar found in milk and milk products (cheese, butter, etc.). It is considered a nutritive sweetener because it has calories.


A fine, sharp-pointed blade or needle for pricking the skin.

Laser Treatment

Using a special strong beam of light of one color (laser) to heal a damaged area. A person with diabetes might be treated with a laser beam to heal blood vessels in the eye. See also: Photocoagulation.

Latent Diabetes

Former term for impaired glucose tolerance. See also: Impaired glucose tolerance.

Lente Insulin

A type of insulin that is intermediate-acting.

Limited Joint Mobility

A form of arthritis involving the hand; it causes the fingers to curve inward and the skin on the palm to tighten and thicken. This condition mainly affects people with IDDM.


A term for fat. The body stores fat as energy for future use just like a car that has a reserve fuel tank. When the body needs energy, it can break down the lipids into fatty acids and burn them like glucose (sugar).


Small dents in the skin that form when a person keeps injecting the needle in the same spot. See also: Lipodystrophy.


Lumps or small dents in the skin that form when a person keeps injecting the needle in the same spot. Lipodystrophies are harmless. People who want to avoid them can do so by changing (rotating) the places where they inject their insulin. Using purified insulins may also help. See also: Injection site rotation.




See: Angiopathy.


Abnormally large; in diabetes, refers to abnormally large babies that may be born to women with diabetes.

Macrovascular Disease

A disease of the large blood vessels that sometimes occurs when a person has had diabetes for a long time. Fat and blood clots build up in the large blood vessels and stick to the vessel walls. Three kinds of macrovascular disease are coronary disease, cerebrovascular disease, and peripheral vascular disease.

Macular Edema

A swelling (edema) in the macula, an area near the center of the retina of the eye that is responsible for fine or reading vision. Macular edema is a common complication associated with diabetic retinopathy. See also: Diabetic retinopathy; retina.

Maturity-Onset Diabetes

Former term for noninsulin-dependent or type II diabetes. See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

Meal Plan

A guide for controlling the amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats a person eats. People with diabetes can use such plans as the Exchange Lists or the Point System to help them plan their meals so that they can keep their diabetes under control. See also: Exchange lists; point system.


The term for the way cells chemically change food so that it can be used to keep the body alive. It is a two-part process. One part is called catabolism-when the body uses food for energy. The other is called anabolism-when the body uses food to build or mend cells. Insulin is necessary for the metabolism of food.


A drug treatment for type 2 diabetes; belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides.


Milligrams per deciliter. Term used to describe how much glucose (sugar) is in a specific amount of blood. In self-monitoring of blood glucose, test results are given as the amount of glucose in milligrams per deciliter of blood. A fasting reading of 70 to 110 mg/dL is considered in the normal (nondiabetic) range.


A small swelling that forms on the side of tiny blood vessels. These small swellings may break and bleed into nearby tissue. People with diabetes sometimes get microaneurysms in the retina of the eye.


See: Angiopathy.

Microvascular Disease

Disease of the smallest blood vessels that sometimes occurs when a person has had diabetes for a long time. The walls of the vessels become abnormally thick but weak, and therefore they bleed, leak protein, and slow the flow of blood through the body. Then some cells, for example, the ones in the center of the eye, may not get enough blood and may be damaged.

Mixed Dose

Combining two kinds of insulin in one injection. A mixed dose commonly combines regular insulin, which is fast acting, with a longer acting insulin such as NPH. A mixed dose insulin schedule may be prescribed to provide both short-term and long-term coverage.


A form of diabetic neuropathy affecting a single nerve. The eye is a common site for this form of nerve damage. See also: Neuropathy.

Morbidity Rate

The sickness rate; the number of people who are sick or have a disease compared with the number who are well.

Mortality Rate

The death rate; the number of people who die of a certain disease compared with the total number of people. Mortality is most often stated as deaths per 1,000, per 10,000, or per 100,000 persons.

Myocardial Infarction

Also called a heart attack; results from permanent damage to an area of the heart muscle. This happens when the blood supply to the area is interrupted because of narrowed or blocked blood vessels.


A substance in the cell that is thought to play a role in helping the nerves to work. Low levels of myo-inositol may be involved in diabetic neuropathy.



National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

One of the 17 institutes that make up the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the Public Health Service.

Necrobiosis Lipoidica Diabeticorum

A skin condition usually on the lower part of the legs. The lesions can be small or extend over a large area. They are usually raised, yellow, and waxy in appearance and often have a purple border. Young women are most often affected. This condition occurs in people with diabetes, or it may be a sign of diabetes. It also occurs in people who do not have diabetes.


The term used when new, tiny blood vessels grow in a new place, for example, out from the retina. See also: Diabetic retinopathy.


A doctor who sees and treats people with kidney diseases.


Disease of the kidneys caused by damage to the small blood vessels or to the units in the kidneys that clean the blood. People who have had diabetes for a long time may have kidney damage.

Nerve Conduction Studies

Tests to determine nerve function; can detect early neuropathy.


A doctor who sees and treats people with problems of the nervous system.


Disease of the nervous system. Many people who have had diabetes for a while have nerve damage. The three major forms of nerve damage are: peripheral neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy, and mononeuropathy. The most common form is peripheral neuropathy, which mainly affects the feet and legs. See also: Peripheral neuropathy; autonomic neuropathy; mononeuropathy.


See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM)

The most common form of diabetes mellitus; about 90 to 95 percent of people who have diabetes have NIDDM. Unlike the insulin-dependent type of diabetes, in which the pancreas makes no insulin, people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes produce some insulin, sometimes even large amounts. However, either their bodies do not produce enough insulin or their body cells are resistant to the action of insulin (see Insulin Resistance). People with NIDDM can often control their condition by losing weight through diet and exercise. If not, they may need to combine insulin or a pill with diet and exercise. Generally, NIDDM occurs in people who are over age 40. Most of the people who have this type of diabetes are overweight. Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus used to be called "adult-onset diabetes," "maturity-onset diabetes," "ketosis-resistant diabetes," and "stable diabetes." It is also called type II diabetes mellitus.

Noninvasive Blood Glucose Monitoring

A way to measure blood glucose without having to prick the finger to obtain a blood sample. Several noninvasive devices are currently being developed.

Nonketotic Coma

A type of coma caused by a lack of insulin. A nonketotic crisis means: (1) very high levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood; (2) absence of ketoacidosis; (3) great loss of body fluid; and (4) a sleepy, confused, or comatose state. Nonketotic coma often results from some other problem such as a severe infection or kidney failure.

NPH Insulin

A type of insulin that is intermediate-acting.


The process by which the body draws nutrients from food and uses them to make or mend its cells.


See: Dietitian.




When people have 20 percent (or more) extra body fat for their age, height, sex, and bone structure. Fat works against the action of insulin. Extra body fat is thought to be a risk factor for diabetes.


A doctor who sees and gives care to pregnant women and delivers babies.


See: Oral glucose tolerance test.


A doctor who sees and treats people with eye problems or diseases.


A person professionally trained to test the eyes and to detect and treat eye problems and some diseases by prescribing and adapting corrective lenses and other optical aids and by suggesting eye exercise programs.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

A test to see if a person has diabetes. See: Glucose tolerance test.

Oral Hypoglycemic Agents

Pills or capsules that people take to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. The pills work for some people whose pancreas still makes some insulin. They can help the body in several ways such as causing the cells in the pancreas to release more insulin.

Six types of these pills are for sale in the United States. Four, known as "first-generation" drugs, have been in use for some time. Two types, called "second-generation" drugs, have been developed recently. They are stronger than first-generation drugs and have fewer side effects. All oral hypoglycemic agents belong to a class of drugs known as sulfonylureas. Each type of pill is sold under two names: one is the generic name as listed by the Food and Drug Administration; the other is the trade name given by the manufacturer. They are:

First-Generation Agents:

Generic Name: Tolbutamide
Trade Name: Orinase

Generic Name: Acetohexamide
Trade Name: Dymelor

Generic Name: Tolazamide
Trade Name: Tolinase

Generic Name: Chloropropamide
Trade Name: Diabinese

Second-Generation Agents:

Generic Name: Glipizide Trade Name: Glucotrol

Generic Name: Glyburide Trade Name: Diabeta, Micronase

Overt Diabetes

Diabetes in the person who shows clear signs of the disease such as a great thirst and the need to urinate often.


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