Diabetes Knowledge

Diabetes vocab you need to know

1/31/2019 by mySugr

There are a lot of fancy and complicated words that come with diabetes, and it’s hard to know what they mean.

We collected a few important ones to get you started.

Blood sugar

Big surprise with this one, right? You probably know this one already - or have heard a lot about it at least. The blood sugar value shows the concentration of glucose (sugar) in your blood. It’s typically measured in either mg/dL or mmol/L depending on what region of the world you live in. Knowing your blood sugar values is a key piece of the puzzle for your diabetes management.


Carbohydrates (or carbs, for short) are starches and various forms of sugar such as glucose, fructose, and sucrose. Food and drink with carbs are most directly responsible for raising your blood sugar levels. Unless you’re careful, many of the things you eat or drink contain carbohydrates – including some surprising ones! For more about carbohydrates, check out this recent article, “What are carbs and why should I care?”


Also known as hypos or lows, this means low blood sugar (typically below 70 mg/dL). Hypos are very uncomfortable and the symptoms can be different for everyone (and even different for individual episodes in the same person). These symptoms can include feeling shaky, sweating, blurred vision, intense and urgent hunger, dizziness, and confusion. Lows are urgent and important. Treating a low blood sugar can be as simple as consuming fast-acting carbohydrates (glucose tabs, juice, regular soda, etc.). Untreated lows can lead to unconsciousness in worst case situations.


On the other end of the spectrum is high blood sugar (anything higher than your prescribed target range). Depending on how long ago you were diagnosed, you may recognize some of these symptoms; frequent urination, unquenchable thirst, and feeling tired/sluggish. Long term, it’s high blood sugar that leads to scary complications related to diabetes such as nerve damage, eye problems, and kidney damage. Here’s more information about why high blood sugar is bad.

Basal insulin

Also known as background insulin. This is the long-lasting insulin that covers your insulin needs, independent of meals, around the clock. Depending on the exact type of basal insulin, you might take it once or twice per day. Basal insulin is often one of the first forms of insulin prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes. If you’re on intensive insulin therapy, are using a form of basal/bolus therapy, or use an insulin pump, you might want to know more about basal rate testing.

HbA1c or A1c

A certain amount of sugar in your blood sticks to your red blood cells and the HbA1c test measures that value to provide an average blood sugar value for the past 8-12 weeks. You usually have this test done at the lab or from a fingerstick at your doctor’s office. According to the ADA, a reasonable A1c goal for many nonpregnant adults is less than 7%. While it is a very standard measurement, it’s important to know that A1c results are only part of the story.

Time in range (TIR)

Continuous glucose measurement systems offer opportunities for a more detailed overview of blood sugar management. Because HbA1c results are an average that may not reflect large fluctuations in blood sugars, time in range may be more helpful. This measurement, often available from your continuous or flash glucose management system, reports a percentage of how much time you have spent in your target blood glucose range.


This is a blood lipid/fat value that consists of three fatty acid chains and glycerol – that’s where the name comes from. This value describes the number of triglycerides in the blood. Your doctor will have a recommended target value for you. High values over time can increase the risk of heart problems. A balanced diet, exercise, and proper weight management can help promote good triglyceride levels. Excessive alcohol consumption and a high-sugar diet, on the other hand, usually have a negative effect.

LDL Cholesterol

LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins. Often called the “bad cholesterol” because high LDL levels can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries making heart attacks and strokes more likely. LDL levels are largely genetic, but an unhealthy diet, being overweight, and not exercising enough are also contributing factors for unhealthy values. Again, your doctor can prescribe a target LDL value for you.

Just a start

Of course, this is just a start. There are many more words and phrases that you’ll learn as time goes on. Hopefully, this short overview answers a few of your questions. Let us know if you’d like us to do more of this or if there’s a topic we should dive deeper into.

And more

There are also a lot of non-traditional terms that people with diabetes are known to use. Some are very tongue-in-cheek, and some don’t need much explanation. Kerri Sparling at SixUntilMe has a wonderful collection of these Diabetes Terms of Endearment. Enjoy!


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