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A Glossary Of Diabetes Terms

The National Institutes Of Health's National Diabetes Education Program


Americans with Disabilities Act – A federal law enacted in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Under this law, diabetes can be considered a disability.

Autoimmune disease – A disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys body tissue that it believes to be foreign. In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.


Blood glucose level – The amount of glucose in the blood.

Blood glucose meter – A small, portable machine that measures how much glucose is in the blood. After pricking the skin with a lancet, one places a drop of blood on a special test strip, which is inserted in the machine. The meter (or monitor) then gives the blood glucose level as a number on the meter's digital display.

Blood glucose monitoring – The act of checking the amount of glucose in the blood. Also called self-monitoring of blood glucose.


Carbohydrates or carbs – One of the three main classes of foods and a source of energy for the body. Carbohydrates are mainly sugars and starches that the body breaks down into glucose. Foods high in carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels. Carbohydrate foods include: breads, crackers, and cereals; pasta, rice, and grains; vegetables; milk and yogurt; fruit, juice, and sweetened sodas; and table sugar, honey, syrup; molasses, cakes, pies and cookies.

Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – A device that records glucose levels throughout the day. The CGM works through a sensor inserted under the skin that measures interstitial glucose levels (the glucose found in the fluid between cells) at regular intervals. The CGM sends the current glucose level wirelessly to a pump or a separate monitor that the student carries or wears in a pocket, a backpack, or a purse. When glucose levels are too high or too low, the CGM sets off an alarm.


Diabetes Medical Management Plan – Describes the medical orders or diabetes care plan developed by the student's personal health care team.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – An emergency condition in which extremely high blood glucose levels, along with a severe lack of insulin, result in the breakdown of body fat for energy and an accumulation of ketones in the blood and urine.


Education plan – A plan that addresses the student's needs for services to manage their diabetes safely and effectively in school, where required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). These include the 504 Plan, other education plan, or individualized education program (IEP).


Glucagon – A hormone that raises the level of glucose in the blood. Glucagon, given by injection, is used to treat severe hypoglycemia.

Glucose – A simple sugar found in the blood. It is the body's main source of energy.

Glucose tablets or gel – Special products that deliver a pre-measured amount of pure glucose. They are a fast-acting form of glucose used to counteract hypoglycemia.


Hormone – A chemical produced by an organ that travels in the blood to affect other organs. An example of a hormone is insulin.

Hyperglycemia – A high level of glucose in the blood. High blood glucose can be due to a mismatch in insulin, food, exercise or illness, or pump malfunction.

Hypoglycemia – A low level of glucose in the blood. Low blood glucose is most likely to occur during or after exercise, if too much insulin is present, or not enough food is eaten.


Individualized Education Program (IEP) – A program designed for a student with a disability covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Each child’s IEP must include the supplementary aids and services to be provided for, or on behalf of, the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child to make progress and to be involved in the general education curriculum.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – A Federal law that provides funds to States to support special education and related services for children with disabilities, administered by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. To be eligible for services under IDEA, a student’s diabetes must impair his or her educational performance so that he or she requires special education and related services. IDEA also contains specific confidentiality protections for student records.

Insulin – A hormone made in the pancreas that allows glucose to enter the cells of the body where it is used for energy. Several types of insulin are used in combination to treat people with diabetes. These different types of insulin have been manufactured either to have immediate (rapid-acting or short-acting insulin), intermediate, or long (basal insulin) onset of action and duration of action in the body. A coordinated combination of different types of insulin is used to achieve target blood glucose levels at meals, snacks, during periods of physical activity, and through the night.

Insulin injections – The process of putting insulin into the body with a needle and syringe or with an insulin pen.

Insulin pen – A pen-like device used to put insulin into the body.

Insulin pump – A computerized device that is programmed to deliver small, steady doses of insulin throughout the day. Additional doses are given when needed to cover food intake and to lower high blood glucose levels. The insulin is delivered through a system of plastic tubing (infusion set).

Insulin resistance – A condition in which the body does not respond normally to the action of insulin. Many people with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance.


Ketoacidosis See Diabetic ketoacidosis.

Ketones (ketone bodies) – Chemicals made by the body when there is not enough insulin in the blood and the body must break down fat for energy. Ketones are usually associated with high blood glucose, but also may occur when a student is ill and blood glucose levels fall below the student's target range. See also diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).


Lancet – A small needle, inserted in a spring-loaded device, used to prick the skin and obtain a drop of blood for checking blood glucose levels.


Medical alert identification – An identification card, necklace or bracelet indicating the student has diabetes and giving an emergency number to call for help.

Mg/dL – Milligrams per deciliter. This term is used in blood glucose monitoring to describe how much glucose is in a specific amount of blood.


Nursing Care Plan – A plan developed by the school nurse used to implement the student's Diabetes Medical Management Plan.


Pallor – Abnormal paleness of the skin.

Pancreas – The organ behind the lower part of the stomach that makes insulin.

Peak effect time – Time when insulin has its major impact on reducing blood glucose levels. See also Insulin.


Quick-acting glucose – Foods or products containing simple sugar that are used to raise blood glucose levels quickly during a hypoglycemic episode. Examples include 3 or 4 glucose tablets or 1 tube of glucose gel or 4 ounces of fruit juice (not low-calorie or reduced sugar) or 6 ounces (half a can) of soda (not low-calorie or reduced sugar).


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act – A federal law, amended in 2008, that prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against people on the basis of disability.

Syringe – A device used to inject medications such as insulin into body tissue.


Target or target range – A range of ideal blood glucose levels determined by the student's personal health care team and outlined in the Diabetes Medical Management Plan. See also blood glucose level.

Test strips – Specially designed strips used in blood glucose meters to check blood glucose levels or in urine testing for ketones.

Trained Diabetes Personnel – Nonmedical personnel who have received in-depth training about diabetes and diabetes management, and can perform student-specific diabetes care tasks, including blood glucose monitoring, insulin administration, recognition and treatment of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and urine or blood ketone testing under supervision of the school nurse or a diabetes-trained health care professional. They also may be called unlicensed assistive personnel, assistive personnel, paraprofessionals, or trained nonmedical personnel.


Urine ketone testing – A procedure for measuring the level of ketones in the urine using test strips.

Last updated September 22, 2011