Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 27, 2021



Start getting into the subject of blood sugar, and you may feel like you're speaking another language! Here are some of the most common words and phrases you might hear when you're talking to your doctor about metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, or diabetes.

Blood Glucose


Glucose is a kind of sugar that your cells use for energy. Your body makes it from the food you eat and delivers it to your cells through your blood. A "blood sugar" level -- or how much glucose is in your blood -- is usually measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Glucose Meter


A device that measures your blood sugar. First you put a test strip in the meter. Then you prick your fingertip with a lancet, a gizmo with a spring inside that pops a small needle out against your skin to get a drop of blood. You touch the test strip to the blood, and your number will show up on the display.

Read the directions for your model to make sure you're using it right.

Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia


These are the doctors' way of saying your blood sugar is high or low. (A good way to remember the difference is that "O" sound is in both "hypo-" and "low.") Usually hyperglycemia is over 160 mg/dL, but your doctor may have set a different target for you. Sometimes people have high blood sugar in the very early morning, called "dawn phenomenon." Hypoglycemia is usually less than 70 mg/dL; you could pass out if it's severe.

Somogyi Effect


Also called the "rebound effect," it's when your blood glucose gets really high after it's been really low, typically while you were sleeping. If it happens a lot, you might need to check your blood sugar in the middle of the night. You can often prevent the Somogyi effect by having a snack in the evening or adjusting your insulin.



A gland about the size of your hand, just below and behind your stomach. Groups of cells called islets (sometimes called islets of Langerhans) make hormones and digestive juices that help you break down and use food.

Its beta cells make insulin, and its alpha cells make glucagon.



The hormone that helps your cells use glucose. If your pancreas doesn't make any or can't make enough, you can take man-made insulin. Types of insulin describe how fast and how long they work: rapid-acting, regular or short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. You may need more than one kind to control your blood sugar.



How you get insulin into your body. One way is a shot with a needle and syringe. The syringe has two parts: the tube where the insulin goes, and the plunger, the part you push down. Insulin pens look a lot like the pens you write with. You fill one with cartridges, dial up the dose, and give the shot. Jet injectors use high pressure instead of a needle to push the insulin through your skin in a burst.

Insulin Pump


You wear or carry this device next to your body. A thin tube connects it to a needle that goes just under your skin. The pump gives a trickle of insulin all day long to help keep your blood glucose steady. You can also program a dose of insulin at mealtime or when your blood sugar is too high. It's more common for people with type 1 diabetes to use one, but someone with type 2 might, too.

Basal Insulin


Think of the word "base" to remember what this is: a background insulin. It's not a kind of insulin, but rather a reason for taking it. Also called "basal insulin replacement," it helps keep your blood glucose steady between meals and overnight. People with type 1 diabetes take a basal insulin because their pancreas is broken. People with type 2 diabetes might or might not need it.

Bolus Insulin


It sounds like "bonus," and that's sort of what it is: insulin that someone with diabetes takes when they eat or when they need to bring their blood glucose down. It might be a different kind than their basal or background insulin. People who use insulin pumps get a bolus infusion. A shot of insulin is a bolus injection.



Another hormone your pancreas makes. It works the opposite of insulin and raises your blood glucose. It also comes in a kit for a low blood glucose emergency, in case you can't eat or drink to get your blood sugar back up. If you've passed out or you're having a seizure, someone else can give you a shot.

Insulin Resistance


This is how doctors describe what happens when your cells don't use insulin right, even if you have plenty of it. You usually can't tell you have insulin resistance, but it leads to prediabetes and diabetes because glucose can't get from your blood into your cells. It's linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Losing weight can help turn it around.



Blood glucose that is higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes. It's also called impaired glucose tolerance and impaired fasting glucose. If you have it, you're more likely to get type 2 diabetes. You can lower your chances by losing weight, being more active, or taking a diabetes drug called metformin.

Diabetes Mellitus


This is the disease that people usually mean when they say "diabetes," when your body has trouble using or can't use the glucose in your blood for energy. With type 1, your body's natural defenses destroy the beta cells in your pancreas that make insulin. With type 2, your pancreas doesn't make enough insulin or your body can't use it well.

Gestational Diabetes


Pregnant women can get a kind of diabetes mellitus that usually goes away after they give birth. Watching what you eat and being active will help keep your blood sugar down and you and your baby healthy. Some women also need to take insulin. Having gestational diabetes once makes you more likely to get it again, as well as to develop type 2 diabetes later.

'Brittle' Diabetes


An older term for diabetes that's hard to control because your blood glucose changes between high and low very quickly. Sometimes this is called "labile" or unstable diabetes.

Diabetes Insipidus


Problems in your pituitary gland or kidneys cause this kind of diabetes. You'll have normal blood glucose, but you'll be very thirsty, feel weak, and pee a lot.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis


"DKA" is an emergency that happens when you have a lot of glucose in your blood but very little insulin. To get energy, your body breaks down fat instead, which makes ketones. If those build up in your blood, you could go into a coma and die.

Fasting Blood Glucose Test


Your doctor checks your blood glucose after you haven't eaten for 8 to 12 hours. This test is used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. You may get one even if you already know you have diabetes, to keep tabs on it.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test


Another test that helps your doctor diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. You don't eat anything the night before. To start the test, your doctor will get a sample of your blood. Then you'll drink a sugary drink, and they'll take a few more blood samples over the next 2 or 3 hours. The results tell your doctor how your body uses glucose. Sometimes, the test is called by its initials: OGTT.



This test -- also called a hemoglobin A1c, HbA1c, or glycohemoglobin test -- measures the "average" amount of sugar in your blood over the past 2 to 3 months. It tells you how much glucose has been sticking to your red blood cells. The result is a percentage, and the number you want depends on your age and health. For example, an A1c at or below 7% can lower an adult's chances of getting more problems from the disease.



A doctor that specializes in glands and in hormones like insulin. If you've recently been diagnosed with diabetes, you're having trouble managing it or you have complications because of it, or you use an insulin pump, you may need to see an endocrinologist.

Diabetes Educator


A health care professional who has the knowledge and experience to teach and support someone with prediabetes or diabetes to prevent or manage the condition. They can be doctors, nurses, dietitians, mental health professionals, fitness professionals, or pharmacists. The letters "CDE" after their name stand for "certified diabetes educator" and mean they have met standards and passed a written test.

Preprandial and Postprandial


These are fancy ways to say "before eating" and "after eating." They usually refer to testing your blood sugar or the glucose reading when you did. Comparing the numbers helps to see how your body reacts to food. Preprandial is just before a meal. Postprandial is 1 to 2 hours afterward.



Along with protein and fat, this is one of three kinds of nutrients in your food. "Carbs," for short, include sugars and starches. They're the main source of fuel for your body. Healthy carbs are whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Unhealthy carbs are foods with added sugars and few vitamins and minerals -- things like cookies, soda, and candy.

Carb Counting


A way of planning what to eat. You keep track of the number (or grams) of carbohydrates in your food. Carb counting can help your figure out how much insulin to take.

Glycemic Index


Not all carbs are the same. This ranking system helps you compare foods by how fast they'll raise blood glucose. Carbs boost it quickly, while eating protein, fat, or fiber at the same time offsets their effect. The glycemic load takes the serving size into account, too, to give you a better idea of how your blood sugar will be affected.

Exchange Lists


A meal-planning system that groups foods as carbs, meat and meat alternatives, or fats. The idea is that you can switch out specific serving sizes of different foods within the groups to get the same basic nutrition.

Show Sources


Joslin Diabetes Center: "Diabetes Glossary."

UCSF Diabetes Education Online: "Monitoring Your Blood," "Diabetes Glossary."

American Diabetes Association: "Common Terms," "Insulin Basics."

Cleveland Clinic: "Glossary of Diabetes Terms."

KidsHealth: "Dictionary: Bolus."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "How to Give an Emergency Glucagon Injection to Treat Low Blood Sugar."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Principle 2: Manage Prediabetes, Prevent Type 2 Diabetes," "The A1C Test & Diabetes," "Carbohydrate Counting & Diabetes."

CDC: "Diabetes Home: Glossary of Terms."

Diabetes Forecast: "The 'Brittle Diabetes' Debate."

UConn Health: "Endocrinology."

National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators: "Welcome to the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators."

Harvard Health Publications: "Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods."