By Madeline Vann, MPH | Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Type 2 diabetes has its own vocabulary and other concepts you'll need to understand to help manage the disease.
Learning to live with type 2 diabetes may seem like a crash college course, complete with new vocabulary words and lifestyle changes. But you and your family will want to become familiar with them all so you’ll be able to understand what is going on and participate in devising a plan to manage your disease.
Type 2 Diabetes: Definitions
Here is your new vocabulary, in alphabetical order:
A1C. The A1C test is the gold standard for tracking how well your blood sugar is controlled. “The A1C blood test is a good indicator of your average glucose over the past three months,” explains Vivian Fonseca, MD, chief of endocrinology at Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. You may also hear this referred to as the hemoglobin A1C test or the glycohemoglobin test. You will have to take this test twice a year.
Beta cells. These insulin-making cells are found in the pancreas, the organ in your body that produces insulin.
Carbohydrates. These are the primary sources of fuel used by your body to make blood sugar. Carbohydrates are sugars or starches found in foods such as rice, pasta, potatoes, and bread.
Gestational diabetes. This is a type of diabetes that is diagnosed during pregnancy and usually goes away after the birth (although it must be controlled during the pregnancy.) Women who have had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes, as are their children.
Glucose. It’s just another word for the sugar in your blood that provides fuel for your cells. High levels of blood glucose — or blood sugar — are a sign of type 2 diabetes.
Hyperglycemia. Another name for high blood sugar. High blood sugar occurs when your blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels are above normal.
Hypertension. Another name for high blood pressure.
Hypoglycemia. This is low blood sugar (or blood glucose); it occurs when your blood sugar levels drop below normal and your body, because of your diabetes, can’t get back to normal blood sugar levels. This is one of the most commonly misunderstood facts of living with type 2 diabetes, says Paul Robertson, MD, president of medicine and science, American Diabetes Association, and professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Washington in Seattle: Hypoglycemia is actually very rare, except as a side effect of some type 2 diabetes treatments. However, your friends and family may worry unduly about your risk of low blood sugar.
Insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. It helps your body turn blood glucose into fuel. If your body doesn’t make enough or doesn’t use it efficiently, you develop insulin resistance and then diabetes. Some people with diabetes take insulin to make up for what their body doesn’t produce.
Microalbumin. This protein’s presence in your urine may indicate diabetes-related kidney damage.
Neuropathy. Neuropathy can be brought on by diabetes. Over time, out-of-control high blood sugar can cause damage to your nervous system, leading to diabetic neuropathy, a weakness or painful sensation in the nerves damaged by diabetes. It can affect your hands, feet, and other organs.
Pancreas. This body organ produces insulin.
Retinopathy. Over time, high blood sugar can affect the blood flow to your eyes, which can cause the retina to deteriorate, leading to blindness.
Type 1 diabetes. A type of diabetes that usually begins at birth or in childhood. With this condition, the person’s pancreas does not make enough insulin to manage blood glucose. This is also called “insulin-dependent diabetes.” People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin to treat their condition.
Type 2 diabetes. It’s also called “adult-onset diabetes,” though increasing numbers are children are now developing it. With this condition, your body isn’t making enough insulin to control your blood sugar levels or can’t use insulin effectively. Although some people have to take medication for type 2 diabetes, many can control their blood sugar levels with changes in diet and exercise.
Type 2 Diabetes: Share Your Knowledge
Despite the learning curve, people who have diabetes understand the disease fairly well, says Dr. Robertson. “The people who don’t understand the diabetes jargon are the families,” he explains.
People with diabetes can eat what they want, as long as they eat it in the right portions, Robertson says. But many people with diabetes find that worried family and friends can make it difficult for them to enjoy even a tiny taste of birthday cake.
So encourage your loved ones to learn more about diabetes — a little education will help all of you.
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