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Diabetes Terminology




An organ behind the lower part of the stomach that is about the size of a hand. It makes insulin so that the body can use glucose (sugar) for energy. It also makes enzymes that help the body digest food. Spread all over the pancreas are areas called the islets of Langerhans. The cells in these areas each have a special purpose. The alpha cells make glucagon, which raises the level of glucose in the blood; the beta cells make insulin; the delta cells make somatostatin. There are also the PP cells and the D1 cells, about which little is known.

Pancreas Transplant

A surgical procedure that involves replacing the pancreas of a person who has diabetes with a healthy pancreas that can make insulin. The healthy pancreas comes from a donor who has just died or from a living relative. A person can donate half a pancreas and still live normally.

At present, pancreas transplants are usually performed in persons with insulin-dependent diabetes who have severe complications. This is because after the transplant the patient must take immunosuppressive drugs that are highly toxic and may cause damage to the body.


A procedure in which a surgeon takes out the pancreas.


Inflammation (pain, tenderness) of the pancreas; it can make the pancreas stop working. It is caused by drinking too much alcohol, by disease in the gallbladder, or by a virus.

Peak Action

The time period when the effect of something is as strong as it can be such as when insulin in having the most effect on lowering the glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Pediatric Endocrinologist

A doctor who sees and treats children with problems of the endocrine glands; diabetes is an endocrine disorder. See also: Endocrine glands.

Periodontal Disease

Damage to the gums. People who have diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than people who do not have diabetes.


A specialist in the treatment of diseases of the gums.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Nerve damage, usually affecting the feet and legs; causing pain, numbness, or a tingling feeling. Also called "somatic neuropathy" or "distal sensory polyneuropathy."

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD)

Disease in the large blood vessels of the arms, legs, and feet. People who have had diabetes for a long time may get this because major blood vessels in their arms, legs, and feet are blocked and these limbs do not receive enough blood. The signs of PVD are aching pains in the arms, legs, and feet (especially when walking) and foot sores that heal slowly. Although people with diabetes cannot always avoid PVD, doctors say they have a better chance of avoiding it if they take good care of their feet, do not smoke, and keep both their blood pressure and diabetes under good control. See also: Macrovascular disease.

Peritoneal Dialysis

A way to clean the blood of people who have kidney disease. See also: Dialysis.


A person trained to prepare and distribute medicines and to give information about them.


Using a special strong beam of light (laser) to seal off bleeding blood vessels such as in the eye. The laser can also burn away blood vessels that should not have grown in the eye. This is the main treatment for diabetic retinopathy.

Pituitary Gland

An endocrine gland in the small, bony cavity at the base of the brain. Often called "the master gland," the pituitary serves the body in many ways-in growth, in food use, and in reproduction.


A doctor who treats and takes care of people's feet.


The care and treatment of human feet in health and disease.

Point System

A way to plan meals that uses points to rate food. The foods are placed in four classes: calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each food is given a point value within its class. A person with a planned diet for the day can choose foods in the same class that have the same point values for meals and snacks.


A great thirst that lasts for long periods of time; a sign of diabetes.


Great hunger; a sign of diabetes. People with this great hunger often lose weight.

Polyunsaturated Fats

A type of fat that comes from vegetables. See also: Fats.


Having to urinate often; a common sign of diabetes.

Postprandial Blood Glucose

Blood taken 1-2 hours after eating to see the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.


A condition that some women with diabetes have during the late stages of pregnancy. Two signs of this condition are high blood pressure and swelling because the body cells are holding extra water.


The number of people in a given group or population who are reported to have a disease.

Previous Abnormality of Glucose Tolerance (PrevAGT)

A term for people who have had above-normal levels of blood glucose (sugar) when tested for diabetes in the past but who show as normal on a current test. PrevAGT used to be called either "latent diabetes" or "prediabetes."


Telling a person now what is likely to happen in the future because of having a disease.


The substance made first in the pancreas that is then made into insulin. When insulin is purified from the pancreas of pork or beef, all the proinsulin is not fully removed. When some people use these insulins, the proinsulin can cause the body to react with a rash, to resist the insulin, or even to make dents or lumps in the skin at the place where the insulin is injected. The purified insulins have less proinsulin and other impurities than the other types of insulins.

Proliferative Retinopathy

A disease of the small blood vessels of the retina of the eye. See also: Diabetic retinopathy.


A man-made substitute for a missing body part such as an arm or a leg; also an implant such as for the hip.


One of the three main classes of food. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are called the building blocks of the cells. The cells need proteins to grow and to mend themselves. Protein is found in many foods such as meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. See also: Carbohydrate; fats.


Too much protein in the urine. This may be a sign of kidney damage.


Itching skin; may be a symptom of diabetes.

Purified Insulins

Insulins with much less of the impure proinsulin. It is thought that the use of purified insulins may help avoid or reduce some of the problems of people with diabetes such as allergic reactions.




Strips or tablets that people use to test the level of glucose (sugar) in their blood and urine or the level of acetone in their urine. These reagents are treated with chemicals that change color during the test. Each type of reagent has its own color code to show how much glucose or acetone there is at the time of the test.


A swing to a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood after having a low level. See also: Somogyi effect.


Areas on the outer part of a cell that allow the cell to join or bind with insulin that is in the blood. See also: Insulin receptors.

Regular Insulin

A type of insulin that is fast acting.


A term that means having something to do with the kidneys.

Renal Threshold

When the blood is holding so much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) that the kidneys allow the excess to spill into the urine. This is also called "kidney threshold," "spilling point," and "leak point."


The center part of the back lining of the eye that senses light. It has many small blood vessels that are sometimes harmed when a person has had diabetes for a long time.


A disease of the small blood vessels in the retina of the eye. See also: Diabetic retinopathy.

Risk Factor

Anything that raises the chance that a person will get a disease. With noninsulin-dependent diabetes, people have a greater risk of getting the disease if they weigh a lot more (20 percent or more) than they should.




A man-made sweetener that people use in place of sugar because it has no calories.

Saturated Fat

A type of fat that comes from animals. See also: Fats.

Secondary Diabetes

When a person gets diabetes because of another disease or because of taking certain drugs or chemicals.


To make and give off such as when the beta cells make insulin and then release it into the blood so that the other cells in the body can use it to turn glucose (sugar) into energy.

Segmental Transplantation

A surgical procedure in which a part of a pancreas that contains insulin-producing cells is placed in a person whose pancreas has stopped making insulin.

Self-Monitoring of Blood Glucose

A way as person can test how much glucose (sugar) is in the blood. Also called home blood glucose monitoring. See also: Blood glucose monitoring.


A severe condition that disturbs the body. A person with diabetes can go into shock when the level of blood glucose (sugar) drops suddenly. See also: Insulin shock.

Sliding Scale

Adjusting insulin on the basis of blood glucose tests, meals, and activity levels.

Somatic Neuropathy

See: Peripheral neuropathy.


A hormone made by the delta cells of the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans). Scientists think it may control how the body secretes two other hormones, insulin and glucagon.

Somogyi Effect

A swing to a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood from an extremely low level, usually occurring after an untreated insulin reaction during the night. The swing is caused by the release of stress hormones to counter low glucose levels. People who experience high levels of blood glucose in the morning may need to test their blood glucose levels in the middle of the night. If blood glucose levels are falling or low, adjustments in evening snacks or insulin doses may be recommended. This condition is named after Dr. Michael Somogyi, the man who first wrote about it. Also called "rebound."


A sugar alcohol the body uses slowly. It is a sweetener used in diet foods. It is called a nutritive sweetener because it has four calories in every gram, just like table sugar and starch.

Sorbitol is also produced by the body. Too much sorbitol in cells can cause damage. Diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy may be related to too much sorbitol in the cells of the eyes and nerves.

Spilling Point

When the blood is holding so much of a substance such as glucose (sugar) that the kidneys allow the excess to spill into the urine. See also: Renal threshold.

Split Dose

Division of a prescribed daily dose of insulin into two or more injections given over the course of a day. Also may be referred to as multiple injections. Many people who use insulin feel that split doses offer more consistent control over blood glucose (sugar) levels.

Stiff Hand Syndrome

Thickening of the skin of the palm that results in loss of ability to hold hand straight. This condition occurs only in people with diabetes.


Disease caused by damage to blood vessels in the brain. Depending on the part of the brain affected, a stroke can cause a person to lose the ability to speak or move a part of the body such as an arm or a leg. Usually only one side of the body is affected. See also: Cerebrovascular disease.

Subclinical Diabetes

A term no longer used. See: Impaired glucose tolerance.

Subcutaneous Injection

Putting a fluid into the tissue under the skin with a needle and syringe. See also: Injection.


Table sugar; a form of sugar that the body must break down into a more simple form before the blood can absorb it and take it to the cells.


A class of carbohydrates that taste sweet. Sugar is a quick and easy fuel for the body to use. Types of sugar are lactose, glucose, fructose, and sucrose.


Pills or capsules that people take to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. See also: Oral hypoglycemic agents.


A sign of disease. Having to urinate often is a symptom of diabetes.


A set of signs or a series of events occurring together that make up a disease or health problem.

Syndrome X

Term describing a combination of health conditions that place a person at high risk for heart disease. These conditions are noninsulin-dependent diabetes, high blood pressure, high insulin levels, and high levels of fat in the blood.


A device used to inject medications or other liquids into body tissues. The syringe for insulin has a hollow plastic or glass tube (barrel) with a plunger inside. The plunger forces the insulin through the needle into the body. Most insulin syringes now come with a needle attached. The side of the syringe has markings to show how much insulin is being injected.


A word used to describe conditions that affect the entire body. Diabetes is a systemic disease because it involves many parts of the body such as the pancreas, eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves.

Systolic Blood Pressure

See: Blood pressure.



Team Management

Describes a diabetes treatment approach in which medical care is provided by a physician, diabetes nurse educator, dietitian, and behavioral scientist working together with the patient.


An infection of the mouth. In people with diabetes, this infection may be caused by high levels of glucose (sugar) in mouth fluids, which helps the growth of fungus that causes the infection. Patches of whitish-colored skin in the mouth are signs of this disease.


A pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes take these pills. See also: Oral hypoglycemic agents.


A pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with noninsulin-dependent diabetes take these pills. See also: Oral hypoglycemic agents.

Toxemia of Pregnancy

A condition in pregnant women in which poisons such as the body's own waste products build up and may cause harm to both the mother and baby. The first signs of toxemia are swelling near the eyes and ankles (edema), headache, high blood pressure, and weight gain that the mother might confuse with the normal weight gain of being pregnant. The mother may have both glucose (sugar) and acetone in her urine. The mother should tell the doctor about these signs at once.


Harmful; having to do with poison.

Transcutaneous Electronic Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

A treatment for painful neuropathy.


A wound, hurt, or injury to the body. Trauma can also be mental such as when a person feels great stress.


A type of blood fat. The body needs insulin to remove this type of fat from the blood. When diabetes is under control and a person's weight is what it should be, the level of triglycerides in the blood is usually about what it should be.

Twenty-Four Hour Urine

The total amount of a person's urine for a 24-hour period.

Type I Diabetes Mellitus

See: Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

Type II Diabetes Mellitus

See: Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.


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