Diabetes glossary

Find definitions of common diabetes and other medical terms

Like any medical condition, diabetes comes with its own language that you need to learn and understand. This can help you have more productive conversations with your healthcare team. Below are some of the common terms you will come across in this site.1


A low, steady flow of longer-acting insulin.


A cut or surface. Usually used to describe the features of a pen needle tip.

Blood glucose meter

A small, portable machine used to check blood glucose levels. After a finger is pricked with a lancet for a small drop of blood, the drop is placed on a test strip in the meter. The meter then displays the blood glucose level.

Blood sugar

The main sugar found in the body and the body's main source of energy. Also called blood glucose.

Body mass index (BMI)

A measure used to assess a person's body weight relative to their height. BMI is used to determine if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.


An extra amount of fast-acting insulin taken to cover a planned rise in blood glucose, such as a meal or a snack.

Extra-thin wall

A term used to describe a needle that has thinner walls and a wider internal diameter than a standard thin-wall needle.

Gauge (G)

A measure of how thin a needle is. The larger the gauge number, the thinner the needle.

Gestational diabetes

A type of diabetes that develops when a woman is pregnant and then usually goes away after delivery. Gestational diabetes increases the risk that the mother will develop diabetes later in life.


A type of carbohydrate-rich food made from hard, dry seeds. The two main types are cereals (e.g., wheat, rye) and legumes (e.g., beans, soybeans).


A type of injectable medication that causes the pancreas to release more insulin and the liver to release less sugar into the bloodstream. Also called glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor antagonist.


A medical term usually used to refer to blood sugar levels (e.g., glycemic control, hypoglycemia).


A chemical messenger made in one part of the body that triggers an action in another part of the body.


When blood sugar is too high. Healthcare teams may be interested in fasting hyperglycemia (i.e., the blood sugar after eight hours without eating) or postprandial hyperglycemia (i.e., the blood sugar one to two hours after eating).


When blood sugar is too low. Signs include hunger, nervousness, shakiness, perspiration, dizziness, sleepiness and confusion. Also called an insulin reaction.


A hormone that helps the body use glucose for energy. Insulin is made in the part of the pancreas called beta cells.

Intramuscular (IM) injection

An injection that accidentally goes into muscle. Insulin should not be injected into the muscle.


An organ than turns food into energy, and removes alcohol and other poisons from the blood.


A doctor who specializes in treating pregnant women and delivering babies.

Oral diabetes medication

Pills taken by mouth to help people with type 2 diabetes keep their blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.


An organ behind the lower part of the stomach that makes insulin (and other enzymes).

Skin-lift technique

A technique used to help reduce risk of intramuscular (IM) injection. It involves lifting a fold of skin with the thumb and forefinger to create a thicker layer of subcutaneous (SC) tissue at the injection site. This technique is most often used with longer needles.

Starchy vegetables

Vegetables high in starch (e.g., a carbohydrate). Examples include potatoes, pumpkin, corn and parsnips.

Subcutaneous (SC) tissue

The fatty layer of tissue below the skin and above the muscle.

Type 1 diabetes

Diabetes characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by a total lack of insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in young people.

Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by either a lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use insulin effectively or both.

  1. Diabetes Canada. Diabetes dictionary. Diabetes Canada Web site. http://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/diabetes-dictionary. Accessed May 30, 2017.