12 Diabetes Terms You Should Know

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Insulin resistance

When you need more insulin than the beta cells of your pancreas can provide, glucose builds up in your blood instead of going into the cells in the rest of your body. This resistance to your own insulin causes high blood glucose, which doctors call hyperglycemia. It can lead to prediabetes, which in turn can lead to diabetes if you don’t change your lifestyle.

Doctor explaining something to senior patient.

Type 2 diabetes

When the cells of your body are resistant for several years to the insulin that the beta cells of your pancreas makes, they compensate by making more insulin. Eventually, however, they works so hard that they can’t keep up and begin to die off. That’s when you get type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes. But now, even children are getting it.

Woman doing injection with an insulin pen.

Type 1 diabetes

If you have type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, you usually aren’t resistant to the insulin that your beta cells make. Instead, something else, perhaps an infection, kills most of the beta cells so the rest of the cells in your body get little or no insulin that your body makes. To make up for this lack you have to take insulin shots.

Blood glucose reading.

Blood glucose

When you get either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the amount of blood glucose is high most of the time. This can lead to the trouble with diabetes, the complications of the disease. We call this high level either high blood glucose, which we often abbreviate as high BG, or as high blood sugar, which isn’t BS.

Glucose meter with medical stethoscope, fruits and dumbbells


We say we test our blood glucose, but what we really do is check its level, which changes all the time depending on what we eat, the exercise we get, and the diabetes medications that we take. A normal level is about 80 to 85 mg/dl. If it’s lower than about 70 mg/dl, we have hypoglycemia, “a hypo.” If it’s too high, we have hyperglycemia.

Glucose blood test.

Blood glucose meters

To find out what your level is at the moment, put a test strip into a blood glucose meter. Then, the usual way is to prick the side of one of your fingers to get a small drop of blood. Place the blood drop on the test strip and wait for a few seconds. Finally, hope that the meter gives you an accurate reading.

Drop of blood on fingertip.


The A1C test also uses a small drop of your blood. But instead of hopefully telling you how high or low your blood glucose is at the moment, this test tells you what your average level was over the past two or three months. We sometimes call this a test of hemoglobin A1C or glycohemoglobin or HbA1C. A level below 6.0 is normal.

Salmon with steamed vegetables.


Having diabetes means that your body doesn’t do a good job of using the food you eat because of a disturbance of carbohydrate metabolism. It’s those carbs that raise your blood glucose levels. When you reduce the carbs in your diet, your diabetes is easier to manage.

Close up of woman hands holding insulin syringes.


Everybody with type 1 diabetes must take insulin shots to make up for the insulin that your body should have made. About one-forth of people with type 2 diabetes take insulin shots. Maybe more type 2s should. We now have many types of insulin. Using one of them can be tricky: you need to take the right type at the right time in the right amount. But it’s a medication of first resort — not last resort.

Woman using an injectable drug.

Other injectable drugs for diabetes

Beside insulin, we have two other types of injectables: insulin mimetics and an amylin analog. Approved for people with type 2 diabetes, the insulin mimetics copy how insulin works, and include Bydureon and Victoza. The amylin analog Symlin makes insulin work better for people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes who use insulin.

Row of prescription bottles.

Diabetes pills

Most people who have type 2 diabetes take oral diabetes drugs daily to help manage it. We already have dozens of these pills in eight types or classes that can lower your blood glucose in different ways plus several more that are combinations. Metformin is the most commonly prescribed diabetes pill.

Mature woman lifting dumbbells.


Too many people still think because this is the 21st century, we must have a way to cure diabetes. We don’t. But you are able to manage it so well with diet and exercise that you can kick your diabetes into remission. Many people who manage their diabetes well discover that they are healthier and happier than they ever were. You can be too.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.