Diabetes Self-Management Articles
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You can use this page as your own diabetes dictionary — add it your Web browser’s list of bookmarks for quick reference. Check back often, because the list will keep growing.


Acanthosis Nigricans

A condition characterized by discolored patches in the skin folds of the armpits, neck, or groin, ranging from tan to dark brown. Acanthosis nigricans is associated with hyperinsulinemia (a higher-than-normal level of insulin in the blood), which results…


ACE Inhibitors

A class of medicine usually used to treat high blood pressure. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors also appear to protect people with diabetes from diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease).

People with diabetes are especially prone to…


Acupuncture

The practice of inserting thin needles into specific points on the body for the purpose of improving health and well-being. Acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest and most commonly used medical practices in the world…


Addison Disease

A medical condition in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol or, in some cases, aldosterone, causing such problems as weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes darkened patches of skin. It occurs somewhat more commonly in people with Type 1 diabetes than in the general population…


Albumin

One of a group of simple proteins widely distributed in animals and plants. Albumin is found in such substances as blood, milk, and egg whites. In humans it has special relevance to people with diabetes because its presence in urine is a marker of diabetic kidney disease…


Aldosterone Antagonist

A class of antihypertensive (blood-pressure-lowering) drugs that may offer unique advantages for people with heart failure and people with diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease). The two aldosterone antagonists currently on the market are spironolactone (brand name Aldactone) and eplerenone (Inspra)…


Alpha-Glucosidase Inhibitors

A class of diabetes drugs sometimes called “starch blockers” that blocks the action of enzymes that normally begin to break down certain carbohydrates in the upper part of the small intestine.

Different classes of diabetes medicines…


Alternate-Site Testing

Blood glucose self-monitoring using a blood sample from somewhere other than the fingertips, namely the palm, upper arm, forearm, abdomen, calf, or thigh…


Amino Acids

The basic structural units of protein. The body uses protein to build up and repair tissue. Protein is found in muscles, organs, bones, and skin and in many of the body’s hormones, or chemical messengers. There are about 20 aminoacids in the human body…


Anemia

A decrease in the number of red blood cells or in the amount of hemoglobin (an oxygen-carrying protein) in these cells that may cause such symptoms as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, or insomnia. Anemia, in turn, may…


Angina

Pain or tightness in the chest, a symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD). People with diabetes are at increased risk for CHD, a condition in which the heart muscle does not get a sufficient supply of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to meet its needs…


Angiogram

An x-ray image of the blood vessels taken after a special dye is injected into the bloodstream. Angiograms can be used to look at arteries such as the lungs (pulmonary angiogram), brain (cerebral angiogram), and heart (coronary angiogram)…


Ankle-Brachial Index

A test for peripheral vascular disease in which blood pressure readings of the arms are compared with readings of the ankles. The ankle–brachial index (ABI) is used to screen for peripheral vascular disease…


Antibodies

Proteins made by white blood cells in response to bacteria, viruses, and other substances. Antibodies and white blood cells are both components of the body’s immune system, which protects it from infections and diseases. Specific antibodies are designed…


Anticoagulant Drugs

Drugs that prevent the coagulation, or clotting, of blood. Although they’re often called “blood thinners,” anticoagulants don’t dilute the blood—they increase the amount of time it takes for blood to form a clot by interfering with…


Antidepressants

Drugs used to treat clinical depression, a medical condition characterized by long-standing feelings of sadness, apathy, and hopelessness. People with diabetes are especially prone to depression: By some estimates, 15% to 30% of people with diabetes may…


Antiplatelet Drugs

Drugs that reduce the formation or inhibit the action of chemicals that promote the activation and aggregation of platelets, blood components important for the clotting of blood. Although clotting is an important step in wound healing, inappropriate…


Aromatherapy

The use of essential oils (the oils that give plants their characteristic scents) that have been extracted from flowers, herbs, and trees, to promote health and well-being. Essential oils are most often inhaled or applied to the skin. These oils have been used for thousands of years to treat such problems as insomnia, depression, slow-healing wounds, and infections…


Aspirin Resistance

A state in which aspirin fails to exert a beneficial effect on risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Medical experts do not agree whether aspirin resistance is a “real” phenomenon (since some variation in individual response to drugs is normal) or, if it is real, how exactly the term should be defined. Aspirin resistance may be common in people with diabetes…


Atherosclerosis

A disease in which arteries become dangerously narrowed by lipid deposits. People with diabetes are at increased risk for atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis begins when the endothelium, the inner lining of the arteries that has direct contact with the…


Atrial Fibrillation

A specific type of cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) in which the upper chambers of the heart beat erratically…


Autoimmunity

A condition in which the body’s immune system identifies the body’s own tissues as “foreign” rather than self. The purpose of the body’s immune system is to fight off infections, such as those caused by viruses and bacteria. Some degree of autoimmunity…


Basal Rate

The rate at which an insulin pump infuses small, “background” doses of short-acting insulin. Over a 24-hour period, the basal flow of insulin accounts for about 50% of a person’s total daily insulin requirement. However, this may…


Behavior Activation Therapy

A type of treatment for psychological depression. People with diabetes have roughly twice the risk of depression as people without diabetes, and depression affects an estimated 15% to 30% of individuals with diabetes at any given time…


Beta Cells

The cells located within the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas that secrete insulin. The process leading to Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes appears to start when the immune system recognizes and attacks proteins on the surface of the beta cells…


Beta-Cell Regeneration

A natural process by which the beta cells of the pancreas, which make and secrete insulin, create new beta cells. Diabetes researchers are keenly interested in exploiting the mechanisms behind this phenomenon to some day prevent, treat, or cure Type…


Bile Acid Sequestrants

A class of lipid-lowering medicines that helps lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Also called bile acid resins, these drugs lower cholesterol levels by binding with cholesterol-containing bile acids in the intestines. Once bound to these medicines, the bile acids are eliminated in the stool…


Biofeedback

A technique in which various monitoring devices are used to help a person learn to voluntarily alter normally involuntary body functions such as brain activity, blood pressure, muscle tension, or heart rate.

Biofeedback has been shown to be helpful in…


Body-Mass Index

A measure of a person’s weight in relation to his or her height—a way to gauge whether a person needs to lose weight. A person’s BMI is expressed as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2)…


Brown Fat

A type of fat that converts stored energy into heat. Scientists believe that brown fat may hold the key to developing successful methods for losing weight. Fat contains two distinct types of cells. Brown fat cells have very high concentrations of mitochondria, which give them their distinctive color…


C-Peptide

A by-product of the manufacture of insulin within the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin is produced from a protein called proinsulin, which consists of three chains of amino acids: the A-chain, the connecting peptide (or C-peptide) chain, and the B-chain…


C-Reactive Protein

A blood marker for inflammation, which is thought to play a role in many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Scientific studies have shown not only that a high level of C-reactive protein (CRP) is a risk factor for heart…


Capsaicin

A chemical that may help relieve chronic pain. Capsaicin is found in capsicum peppers, which include cayenne peppers, red peppers, African chilies, and tabasco peppers. It is capsaicin that gives these chili peppers their bite…


Carbohydrate Counting

A meal-planning method that involves keeping the total carbohydrate intake at each meal consistent from day to day, with the aim of improving overall blood glucose control. Carbohydrate counting has become increasingly popular since the American Diabetes…


Cardiomyopathy

Damage to the structure and function of the heart caused by diabetes. It is extremely prevalent: In one study, 52% of people with Type 2 diabetes had some degree of diabetic cardiomyopathy…


Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

An emergency technique used when a person’s heart has stopped beating or the person has stopped breathing, or both. The standard procedure involves pumping on the victim’s chest to stimulate the heart and exhaling air into his or her lungs…


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

A painful condition caused by compression of the median nerve, which runs along the forearm to the wrist. Although anyone can develop it, people with diabetes seem to be more prone to developing it than people who don’t have diabetes. By some estimates, carpal tunnel syndrome affects up to 20% of people with diabetes, compared with 3% to 6% of the general population…


Cataract

A cloudy lens in the eye that may cause vision problems. The lens is the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina, which in turn translates the light into the impulses transmitted to the brain.

Cataract is a painless condition. Some signs of…


CDE

Abbreviation for Certified Diabetes Educator, a title ensuring that a given health professional has received special training in diabetes treatment and education. To qualify as a Certified Diabetes Educator, or CDE, a health professional must have…


Celiac Disease

An autoimmune disorder that renders the small intestine incapable of tolerating the protein gluten, which is found in certain grains…


Charcot Joint

A breakdown of the skeletal architecture of a joint. In people with diabetes, this condition most commonly affects the foot. Especially susceptible to Charcot joint are people with diabetes who have severe peripheral nerve damage. Because they have lost…


Chiropractic

An alternative therapy that seeks to improve nerve transmission through mechanical manipulation of the spinal column. A body of scientific evidence shows that chiropractic can be an effective treatment for some types of low back pain…


Cholesterol

A waxy substance found in all of the body’s cells. The body uses cholesterol for a number of important functions, such as manufacturing certain hormones. As most people know, however, too much cholesterol in the blood can be damaging to the heart and…


Chronic Care Model

A way of delivering health care to groups of people with chronic diseases, including diabetes. The current model for most health-care delivery emphasizes acute care, dealing with individual problems as they arise (such as when a person goes to the doctor for a cold or the flu). However, that approach to health care is not the best for treating diabetes…


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

A slowly progressive airway disease that causes the gradual loss of lung function. COPD is an umbrella term that includes chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive bronchitis, emphysema, and combinations of these diseases. The symptoms of COPD include chronic cough and sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus) production and severe shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, people increasingly lose their ability to breathe. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The most common risk factor for COPD by far is cigarette smoking…


Chylomicrons

One of the five types of lipoproteins, or combinations of proteins, triglycerides (the body’s main storage form of fat), and cholesterol that circulate throughout the bloodstream…


Circadian Rhythm

An approximately 24-hour cycle of biological processes in plants and animals. In humans, the circadian “clock” is found in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a cluster of cells located in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The circadian rhythm influences sleeping, eating, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, the levels of certain hormones, and the immune system…


Circulator Boot

The brand name of a device that compresses the leg in synchrony with a person’s heartbeat. The boot can be used to treat a number of medical conditions, including claudication (cramping leg pain when walking) and foot and leg ulcers…


Coenzyme Q10

A substance found naturally in the mitochondria, the cells’ powerhouses. Coenzyme Q10 is also a powerful antioxidant that is sometimes taken in supplement form to treat a variety of ills…


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A scientifically proven form of psychotherapy that involves identifying distorted, maladaptive patterns of thinking and behaviors and replacing them with more pragmatic, problem-solving ways of thinking and acting…


Colonoscopy

A procedure in which a doctor looks inside the entire colon (large intestine) using a special scope. Colonoscopy is used to diagnose the causes of unexplained changes in bowel habits and to screen for abnormal tissue. It can detect the early signs of…


Coma

A state of profound unconsciousness from which a person cannot be aroused. It may be the result of trauma, a brain tumor, loss of blood supply to the brain (as from cerebrovascular disease), a toxic metabolic condition, or encephalitis (brain…


Community Health Worker

A member of a community who serves as a liaison between health-care providers and health-care consumers who have traditionally lacked access to good health care…


Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

A type of heart disease in which the heart no longer pumps sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart failure, but a number of measures, including tight blood glucose control, can greatly reduce this…


Contraindication

A symptom, condition, or trait that interferes with a given drug or treatment in a dangerous or counterproductive way. Most drugs and medical treatments have contraindications. For example, if drug A interacts with drug B, the labeling for drug A will…


Coronary Calcium Scan

A computed tomography (CT) scan used to detect the buildup of calcium in plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. The results of the test help to determine a person’s level of heart disease risk. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart…


Corticosteroids

Natural or synthetic hormones associated with the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland and corticosteroids regulate or influence numerous body functions, including carbohydrate and protein metabolism, blood glucose levels, electrolyte and water balance, the cardiovascular system, and kidney function…


Counterregulatory Hormones

Hormones that work against the action of insulin, raising blood glucose levels in response to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The main counterregulatory hormones are glucagon, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), cortisol, and growth hormone…


Creatinine

A by-product of normal muscle breakdown. Measuring the levels of creatinine in the bloodstream and in the urine can be helpful for tracking the progression of diabetic kidney disease…


Dawn Phenomenon

Very high blood glucose in the early morning due to the release of certain hormones in the middle of the night. The body makes certain hormones called counterregulatory hormones, which work against the action of insulin…


Deep Vein Thrombosis

A blood clot that forms in a vein deep within the body, typically a vein in the leg. There are a number of risk factors for deep vein thrombosis, including certain inherited clotting disorders, cancer and its treatment, varicose veins, and being…


Diabetes

A disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. In Type 2 diabetes, there are two main underlying reasons…


Diabetes Control and Complications Trial

A landmark study that proved that tight blood glucose control can substantially reduce the risk of developing the devastating medical complications of diabetes. At least as early as the 1930’s, researchers hotly debated what role blood glucose levels…


Diabetes Prevention Program

A large multicenter clinical trial designed to determine whether weight loss from dietary changes and exercise or the oral diabetes drug metformin could prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes in participants with a condition called prediabetes…


Diabetic Amyotrophy

A condition characterized by severe pain and muscle weakness in one or both thighs (and occasionally the arms and abdomen). It typically develops in people with Type 2 diabetes who are over 50…


Diabetic Bladder

A term referring to bladder problems caused by diabetic autonomic neuropathy. The bladder’s function is to store the urine produced by the kidneys. Ordinarily, once urine is collected in the bladder, the pressure on the inner wall of the bladder…


Dialysis

The process of cleaning and filtering the blood, ridding the body of harmful waste products and extra salts and fluids. It is used in people with kidney failure, including those with advanced diabetic nephropathy.

The major role of the kidneys is to…


Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet

A diet that has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure. This eating plan is the product of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study, which showed that the plan results in significantly lower blood pressure than the traditional American diet…


Dietary Fiber

The indigestible portion of fruits, vegetables, and grains. There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Both are believed to be important for maintaining good health…


Diuretic

A type of drug that increases the amount of water and salt expelled in the urine. Commonly called water pills, diuretics are often used to treat high blood pressure. As excess water and salt are removed from the body, the heart pumps less blood, and…


DPP-4 Inhibitors

A novel class of drugs for treating Type 2 diabetes that may actually slow or halt the diabetes disease process. DPP-4 inhibitors prevent the breakdown of incretins, the hormones that stimulate insulin secretion in response to meals…


Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution

A program developed by Richard K. Bernstein, MD, for keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible at all times. Dr. Bernstein, who himself has had Type 1 diabetes for more than 60 years, was one of the early advocates of aggressive blood glucose control…


Eating Disorder

A severe disturbance in eating behavior, such as extreme undereating or overeating. Some studies suggest that eating disorders may be more common in adolescent girls with Type 1 diabetes than in their peers who don’t have diabetes. Eating disorders can wreak havoc on diabetes control…


Echinacea

An herb used extensively to prevent and treat the common cold. It is one of the most widely used herbal supplements in the United States, with annual sales surpassing $300 million. Of the nine known species of echinacea, the three that are most often used medicinally are E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida…


Echocardiogram

A moving image of the heart created by sound waves. An echocardiogram can produce a much more detailed image of the heart than a standard x-ray…


Edema

Abnormal accumulation of fluid in various body tissues, causing swelling. The swelling may affect any of a number of body sites, such as the legs, ankles, and feet; the hands; the back or abdomen; and even the eyelids. Edema may be caused by a number of…


Ejection Fraction

The proportion of blood pushed out of one of the heart’s two pumping chambers, the left and right ventricles, when it contracts. The ejection fraction, commonly expressed as a percentage, indicates how strong the ventricles are — that is, how…


Electrocardiogram

A test that measures the natural electrical activity of the heart. It is used to diagnose and evaluate heart problems. The electrical signals that regulate heartbeats start at the right atrium, one of the chambers located at the top of the heart, and travel to the bottom of the heart…


Endogenous/Exogenous

Endogenous means originating within the body, and exogenous means originating outside the body. Health professionals who treat people with diabetes often apply these terms to insulin: Endogenous insulin refers to the insulin the pancreas makes, and exogenous insulin refers to the insulin people inject or infuse via an insulin pump…


Endothelium

The layer of cells that lines the heart, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and certain tissue-lined cavities throughout the body. Researchers are especially interested in the vascular (blood vessel) endothelium and its role in the development of such medical conditions as heart disease and diabetic retinopathy (eye disease)…


Epinephrine

The “fight or flight” hormone that gives us a quick boost of extra energy to cope with danger—including the danger of low blood sugar. When blood sugar levels drop too low, the adrenal glands secrete epinephrine (also called adrenaline), causing…


Essential Fatty Acids

Fats that are necessary for good health and, because they’re not made by the body, must be consumed in the foods we eat. The two types of essential fatty acids are omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. While both types are necessary for good health, many nutrition experts believe that the modern-day Western diet is too rich in omega-6 fatty acids and somewhat deficient in omega-3 fatty acids…


Estimated Average Glucose (eAG)

An average blood glucose level, expressed in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), based on a person’s glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) level…


Fast-Acting Carbohydrate

A form of carbohydrate that will raise blood glucose levels relatively quickly when ingested. The term “fast-acting carbohydrate” is generally used in discussions of treating hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. However, as research accumulates on the…


Fasting Plasma Glucose Test

A test that screens for diabetes by measuring the level of glucose in a person’s blood plasma after a period of fasting (not eating). The fasting plasma glucose test is given to nonpregnant adults who are at high risk for diabetes. According to the…


Fat Replacers

Substances used by food manufacturers to replace fat in various food products, providing the overall sensation of dietary fat (such as “mouth feel”) without being metabolized as fat by the body. There are three basic types of fat replacers…


Fatty Liver

A condition in which fat accumulates in the cells of the liver. Fatty liver is usually associated with heavy alcohol use, excessive weight gain, or diabetes. It is most commonly found on routine blood screening, since it tends to cause minor elevations…


Female Sexual Dysfunction

A blanket term to describe several sexual disorders affecting women, including lack of desire, difficulty becoming sexually aroused, difficulty reaching orgasm, and painful intercourse. By some estimates, anywhere from 19% to 50% of women have some type…


Fibrates

A class of drugs that effectively lowers triglyceride levels and raises levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. They are not very effective for lowering “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Fibrates (also called fibric acid derivatives) include fenofibrate (brand name TriCor) and gemfibrozil (Lopid)…


Fibrinogen

A protein produced by the liver that plays an important role in the development of blood clots. High levels of fibrinogen in the blood, which are associated with advancing age, obesity, physical inactivity, diabetes, and smoking, appear to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease…


Foot Ulcer

A break in the skin of the foot caused by infection or injury. Because of diabetes-related vascular and nerve disease, such as poor blood circulation and neuropathy, people with diabetes can lose sensation in their feet and thus fail to notice otherwise…


Gastric Bypass Surgery

Surgery that makes the stomach smaller and allows food to bypass part of the small intestine, with the goal of promoting weight loss. Gastric bypass surgery is typically considered only in extremely obese individuals (those with a body-mass index [BMI…


Gastroparesis

A condition associated with diabetes, in which the emptying of the stomach is slowed. Normally, the digestion of food is facilitated by steady, rhythmic contractions of the stomach muscles that break down food into smaller particles. These muscle…


GERD

Acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a chronic condition in which the contents of the stomach back up into the esophagus, causing a variety of uncomfortable symptoms. GERD is somewhat more common in people with diabetes.

The esophagus carries…


Gestational Diabetes

A type of diabetes first diagnosed during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects about 4% of all pregnancies, resulting in roughly 135,000 cases in the United States each year.

Gestational diabetes usually develops during the second or…


Ginseng

An herbal folk remedy for various ailments that is made from several species of plants in the genus Panax. The root of ginseng is dried and used to make capsules, tablets, extracts, teas, and creams. Ginseng has been promoted for improving the health of people recovering from illness, increasing a sense of well-being and stamina, [...]


Glaucoma

A disease of the eye that can lead to vision loss due to damage to the retina and optic nerve. The risk of developing glaucoma increases with age. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop glaucoma as others…


GLP-1 Analogs

Manmade, structurally altered chemical versions of glucagon-like peptide-1 (or GLP-1), which may someday play a role in treating both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

GLP-1 is made in the intestine and is released in response to meals. It stimulates…


Glucagon

A counterregulatory hormone that works against the action of insulin. Most people with diabetes know that insulin is secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas. What many don’t know is that other cells in the pancreas called alpha cells secrete the…


Glucose

The most common of the naturally occurring sugars. Glucose, also known as dextrose, corn sugar, and grape sugar, is found abundantly in such common foods as grapes, figs, other sweet fruits, and honey. The digestive tract also breaks down other food…


Glucotoxicity

Damage to the body cells that make and use insulin that’s caused by high blood sugar levels. Glucotoxicity may be partly responsible for the insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion seen in Type 2 diabetes…


Glycogen

The chief storage form of carbohydrate in animals (including humans). Glycogen is stored mainly in the body’s liver and muscle tissue. When blood glucose levels are high, excess glucose normally is stored as glycogen. When blood glucose levels drop…


GlycoMark

A relatively new laboratory test that indicates whether someone has had high blood glucose levels over the previous one to two weeks…


Glyconutrients

Eight specific sugars, or saccharides, found naturally in certain plants. These sugars include fucose, galactose, glucose, mannose, N-acetylgalactosamine, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylneuraminic acid, and xylose, which purportedly help form important compounds called glycoproteins in the body…


Guided Imagery

The use of directed thoughts to create an imaginary experience, with the goal of reaching a peaceful, focused state of mind. It can be used to decrease pain, enhance sleep, relieve anxiety, strengthen the immune system, and increase a person’s sense of control. By reducing stress, it can even lead to better blood glucose control…


HbA1c

Shorthand for hemoglobin A1c or glycosylated hemoglobin, an indicator of blood glucose control over the previous two to three months. Hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, carries oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. Some of…


Hemochromatosis

A common inherited disorder in which the body absorbs and stores abnormally high amounts of iron, causing damage to certain organs. Hemochromatosis tends to coexist with diabetes, for reasons that aren’t completely clear.

Hereditary…


Homeopathy

An alternative therapy based on the theory that “like cures like.” Homeopathy was developed in the late eighteenth century by a German doctor named Samuel Hahnemann. Hahnemann believed that if a large amount of a particular drug or substance caused…


Homeostasis

Constancy in a system, such as the human body, maintained by sensing, feedback, and control mechanisms. A familiar example of a system in homeostasis is a house with a thermostat…


Hyperlipidemia

A blanket term for abnormally high levels of lipids, such as cholesterol, in the bloodstream.

For years, it has been known that high levels of cholesterol in the blood can raise a person’s risk of developing heart disease. Cholesterol…


Hypnotherapy

Therapy using hypnosis, a state of mind in which people are extremely open to suggestion. Hypnosis has been used with at least some success in helping people control pain, curb unwanted behaviors, and treat medical conditions thought to be affected by…


Hypoglycemia

Blood sugar too low to fuel the body’s activities. The normal range for blood sugar is about 60 mg/dl (milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) to 120 mg/dl, depending on when a person last ate…


Hypoglycemia Unawareness

A condition in which a person with diabetes does not experience the usual early warning symptoms of hypoglycemia. Ordinarily, when a person’s blood sugar level drops, the body tries to raise it by releasing the hormones glucagon and epinephrine…


Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator

A device, implanted in the body, that detects potentially fatal abnormal heart rhythms and delivers an electric shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm. The electric impulse may be substantially stronger than the tiny signal used by pacemakers to…


Incretin Hormone

A hormone that stimulates insulin secretion in response to meals. The two most important incretin hormones are called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP). Understanding how these hormones work is helping to yield new treatments for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes…


Inflammation

The body’s protective response to infection and injury. When a sentinel white blood cell detects a foreign substance in the body, it sends out chemicals that make nearby blood vessels dilate (widen) and become more permeable. The widened blood vessels bring more blood and heat to the area, while the increased leakiness of the vessels allows fluid and other infection-fighting white blood cells into the area…


Injection Site Rotation

The systematic switching of insulin injections from one site to another. For years, doctors have emphasized the need for people with diabetes to rotate their injection sites rather than injecting into the same place each time…


Insulin

A hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas to help move glucose from the blood into body cells for energy. People with Type 1 diabetes lose the ability to produce insulin and must inject it. Some people with Type 2 diabetes also need to inject insulin…


Insulin Analog

A man-made substance resembling insulin in which the molecular structure has been altered for a more desirable effect. Insulin is a hormone, or chemical messenger that is released into the bloodstream to be transported throughout the body…


Insulin Detemir

A new, long-acting insulin analog (modified, synthetic form of insulin) that acts in the bloodstream for up to 24 hours. Marketed under the brand name Levemir, detemir is approved for adults and children with Type 1 diabetes and for adults with Type…


Insulin Pump

A small, battery-powered pump designed to deliver insulin into the user’s body 24 hours a day according to a preset program. An insulin pump, which is about the size of a beeper or pager, is composed of a reservoir for the insulin, a small battery, a…


Insulin Resistance

A condition in which the body needs extra insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Along with abnormal insulin secretion, it is a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes…


Insulin Sensitivity Factor

The drop in blood glucose level, measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), caused by each unit of insulin taken. Knowing their insulin sensitivity factor can help people with Type 1 diabetes to determine the dose of short-acting or rapid-acting…


Insulin-to-Carbohydrate Ratio

A ratio that specifies the number of grams of carbohydrate covered by each unit of rapid- or short-acting insulin. This ratio serves as the foundation for adjusting premeal bolus insulin doses…


Intermittent Claudication

Cramping, “on-again, off-again” leg pain brought on by walking. Intermittent claudication is a symptom of peripheral vascular disease, in which atherosclerosis clogs blood vessels throughout the body. Peripheral vascular disease is 20 times more common…


Interstitial Fluid

The fluid that surrounds the cells of multicellular animals. The advent of sensors that can measure glucose in the interstitial fluid has allowed companies to develop devices for continuous glucose monitoring…


Isolated Systolic Hypertension

A specific type of high blood pressure in which a person has a high systolic blood pressure but relatively normal diastolic blood pressure. Blood pressure readings, measured in millimeters of mercury (abbreviated mm Hg), are represented by two numbers…


Ketoacidosis

A life-threatening short-term complication of diabetes characterized by severe disturbances in protein, fat, and carbohydrate regulation due to a deficiency in insulin. It is a medical emergency that requires treatment in an intensive care unit…


Ketones

By-products formed when the body breaks down fat for energy. When the body is starved of glucose or, as in the case of Type 1 diabetes, does not have enough insulin to use the glucose that is in the bloodstream, it begins breaking down fat reserves for energy…


Lactic Acidosis

The buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream. This medical emergency most commonly results from oxygen deprivation in the body’s tissues, impaired liver function, respiratory failure, or cardiovascular disease. It can also be caused by a class of oral…


Lancet

A pointed piece of surgical steel encased in plastic, used to puncture the skin on one’s finger (or other body part) to get a blood sample. Other types of lancets are used for making small incisions, as in the draining of boils and abscesses. Lancets for…


Lipid Profile

A blood test, or the results of a blood test, that measures levels of lipids, or fats, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Factors such as your age, sex, and genetics influence your lipid profile. Certain aspects of your lifestyle, including your…


Lipoprotein (a)

A particular type of lipoprotein, or molecule composed of proteins and fats that transports cholesterol and other lipids throughout the bloodstream. Lipoprotein (a) is often abbreviated Lp(a). High levels of Lp(a), which are elevated in an estimated 20% to 30% of the U.S. population, can raise the risk of coronary artery disease. It is thought that high levels of Lp(a), which are more commonly seen in people with diabetes, may help to account for the significantly increased risk of heart and blood-vessel disease seen in people with diabetes…


Macular Degeneration

Breakdown of the light-sensitive cells in the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 55 in the United States…


Macular Edema

Swelling of the central part of the retina of the eye, which can cause blurred vision. Macular edema is just one facet of diabetic retinopathy, or retinal disease…


Mediterranean Diet

A diet, based on the traditional one in certain areas of the Mediterranean region, that may reduce the risk of heart disease — especially in people with diabetes…


Melatonin

A hormone secreted by the pineal gland that may help regulate a person’s circadian (approximately 24-hour) rhythm, including the sleep-wake cycle. Darkness stimulates the production and release of melatonin, and light suppresses its activity…


Metabolic Syndrome

A cluster of interrelated conditions that greatly increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease…


Metabolism

The sum of all the chemical processes in the body involved in creating and using energy to carry out vital functions such as digestion, growth, breathing, temperature regulation, and elimination of bodily wastes.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is…


Metformin

A popular oral drug for treating Type 2 diabetes. Metformin (brand name Glucophage) is a member of a class of drugs called biguanides that helps lower blood sugar levels by improving the way the body handles insulin—namely, by preventing the liver…


Monckeberg Disease

A disease in which the tunica media, the middle layer of the blood vessel wall, becomes hardened or calcified. This happens through a mechanism entirely different from that of atherosclerosis…


Nephropathy

A complication of diabetes that damages the kidneys’ ability to filter waste from the blood. Diabetic nephropathy is the single most common cause of kidney failure in the Western world. Nearly one-third of all people with Type 1 diabetes will eventually develop kidney failure due to diabetic nephropathy. Between 10% and 40% of people with Type 2 diabetes will also eventually develop kidney failure…


Neuropathy

Damage to nerves. In people with diabetes, neuropathy is generally caused by high blood sugar levels, but there are other possible causes of neuropathy, such as a B vitamin deficiency, injury, some drugs, and cancer.

Excess glucose from the blood can…


Nighttime Hypoglycemia

An episode of low blood glucose occurring at night. During sleep, the body’s energy needs fall, and consequently the liver pumps out less glucose, the body’s fuel. In people without diabetes, the pancreas responds to the liver’s lowered glucose…


Nitric Oxide

A clear, colorless gas that performs a number of important functions in the body. It seems to play a role in several medical conditions, including septic shock, dementia, and impotence, and it may partially account for the high rate of heart disease seen…


Off-Label

A term used to describe the prescribing of a drug for a condition for which it was not specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)…


Omega-3 Fatty Acids

A type of polyunsaturated fat believed to have multiple health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids get their name from the structure of their molecules, in which the first of several double bonds occurs three carbon atoms away from the end of the carbon chain…


Ophthalmologist

A medical doctor specializing in diseases of the eye. People often get confused between opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists.

An optician can fill prescriptions for corrective lenses but does not examine the eyes.

An optometrist has a…


Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

A screening test for diabetes that involves testing an individual’s plasma glucose level after he drinks a solution containing 75 grams of glucose. Currently, a person is diagnosed with diabetes if his plasma glucose level is 200 mg/dl or higher two…


Osteopathy

An approach to the practice of medicine that incorporates the usual forms of medical diagnosis and treatment, but emphasizes the role of the musculoskeletal system in health and disease…


Peripheral Vascular Disease

A condition in which the arteries in the legs, and sometimes the arms, are narrowed by fatty plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Peripheral vascular disease is 20 times more common in people with diabetes than in the general population. Along with…


Pernicious Anemia

A condition in which the body cannot make enough red blood cells due to a deficiency in vitamin B12. Pernicious anemia is somewhat more common in people with Type 1 diabetes than it is in the general population…


Placebo

A pill or preparation with no medicinal value, given either to please a patient or to help test a given therapy. Latin for “I shall be pleasing,” a placebo is traditionally an inactive pill that a doctor prescribes to oblige a patient. Doctors have known…


Plant Insulin

Insulin from genetically modified plants. To meet the rising demand for insulin, a biotechnology company called SemBioSys Genetics, Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is developing plants that are genetically modified to make insulin. In the January 2006 issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal, researchers from the company reported on genetically modifying a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana to make insulin…


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

A metabolic disorder estimated to affect more than six million reproductive-age women in the United States. It is believed to raise a woman’s risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The syndrome can manifest itself in a variety of…


Portal Vein

The vein that carries blood from the abdominal organs to the liver. The portal vein, which measures about 8 centimeters long, begins at the juncture of the superior mesenteric and splenic veins…


Positive Psychology

A branch of psychology that emphasizes increasing happiness rather than directly repairing the symptoms of depression. Researchers in positive psychology have identified three components of happiness: One is positive emotion or “the pleasant life,” which includes feelings of satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pride, and serenity about the past; feelings of hope, optimism, faith, trust, and confidence in the future; and savoring pleasant experiences, or “living in the moment,” in the present…


Postprandial Hyperglycemia

An exaggerated rise in blood sugar following a meal. In people who don’t have diabetes, the pancreas secretes some insulin all the time. It increases its output as blood glucose rises following meals. In people with Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas…


PPAR Agonists

A family of drugs that activate certain proteins in the body called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs). The PPAR agonists can help to improve blood glucose levels and levels of blood lipids (fats and cholesterol) and may also reduce…


Prediabetes

A condition in which blood glucose levels are elevated, but not yet within the diabetic range. Prediabetes is also known as impaired fasting glucose (IFG) or impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). The new term was inaugurated by the U.S. Department of Health…


Pregabalin

A newly approved oral drug for treating neuropathic pain from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Pregabalin is marketed by Pfizer under the brand name Lyrica.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is one manifestation of diabetic neuropathy, a form of nerve…


Pressure Sore

A sore, or ulcer, caused by prolonged pressure against the skin and underlying tissue. The pressure cuts the blood flow to the affected area; the resulting ulcer can be extremely painful, and if left untreated may lead to such serious consequences as…


Proteinuria

The presence of protein in the urine, an early sign of kidney disease. One of the major medical complications of diabetes is diabetic nephropathy, a type of kidney disease that develops slowly over the course of years. Diabetic nephropathy can lead to…


Pulmonary Embolism

A sudden blockage of an artery in the lung. In most cases, the blockage is caused by a blood clot that has traveled to the lung from a vein in the leg…


Pulsatile Intravenous Insulin Therapy (PIVIT)

A special treatment for difficult-to-treat cases of diabetes, involving weekly six-hour sessions in which a special pump delivers insulin in programmed pulses. This treatment can help improve blood glucose control and lower the risk of diabetic complications…


Reiki

An “energy-based” therapy that originated in Japan. The development of Reiki is usually credited to a 19th-century Japanese physician and monk named Mikao Usui, who trained others in its use. According to some sources, the practice had its roots in ancient Buddhist texts called Tibetan sutras…


Remnant-Like Particle Cholesterol

Cholesterol carried by remnant lipoproteins, which are formed by the metabolism of very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL) and chylomicrons (lipoproteins that are rich in triglycerides). High concentrations of remnant-like particle (RLP) cholesterol have been linked to coronary heart disease…


Renin

An enzyme released into the blood by cells of the kidney. Through a series of chemical reactions, renin converts angiotensinogen (a protein released into the blood by the liver) to angiotensin I. As blood passes through the lungs, angiotensin I is…


Resistant Starch

A type of starch that is resistant to (not easily broken down by) digestive enzymes, so it is absorbed much more slowly into the bloodstream than other starches…


Restless Legs Syndrome

A sleep disorder characterized by unpleasant creeping, crawling, tingling, or painful sensations in the legs during rest. It is believed to affect as many as 12 million Americans, and many more may be affected since the condition is underdiagnosed.

No…


Resveratrol

A component of red wine that may help to extend oneís life span and slow the development of age-related diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Some researchers believe that the resveratrol in red wine may help to explain the so-called “French paradox” — that people in France consume a high-fat diet yet have a lower rate of heart disease than Americans…


Retinal Detachment

Separation of the retina from the layer of cells behind it. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue lining the inside of the eye; it sends visual signals to the brain. Detachment of the retina may cause permanent blindness and should be regarded…


Retinopathy

A disease of the retina, the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye, associated with diabetes. After having diabetes for 20 years, nearly all people with Type 1 diabetes and more than 60% of people with Type 2 diabetes develop retinopathy…


Rhabdomyolysis

The breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers into the bloodstream. Some of these breakdown products can be toxic to the kidneys and cause kidney damage. Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by trauma or any condition that causes damage to skeletal muscle…


Salsalate

An anti-inflammatory drug similar to aspirin that may someday be used in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Researchers now believe that inflammation, part of the body’s immune response to infection and injury, may play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes. Inflammation may also play a major role in the development of heart attack and stroke by promoting the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque on blood vessel walls…


Second-Phase Insulin Injection

A prolonged phase of insulin secretion by the pancreas in response to glucose entering the bloodstream. Researchers have identified two distinct phases of insulin secretion by the pancreas that occur when study subjects are given an intravenous glucose injection…


Serotonin Syndrome

A life-threatening condition characterized by dangerously high levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that carries nerve impulses between neurons (nerve cells), and it is an important regulator of mood, attention, and pain perception…


Set Point

The weight that a person’s body naturally tends to maintain. Understanding how the metabolic set point works can help people both understand why weight loss is so difficult and achieve long-term weight loss…


Silent Heart Attack

A heart attack that does not produce the hallmark symptoms of chest pain and difficulty breathing. It is estimated that as many as 4 million Americans have had silent heart attacks…


Sleep Apnea

A sleep disorder in which breathing stops for 10 seconds or more during sleep, sometimes as often as 300 times a night. Research suggests that diabetes can cause — and be caused by — sleep apnea…


Somogyi Effect

The tendency of the body to react to extremely low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) by overcompensating, resulting in high blood sugar. The Somogyi effect, also known as the “rebound” effect, was named after Michael Somogyi, the researcher who first described…


Statins

A class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, also known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. Statins work by blocking the action of an enzyme that controls the production of cholesterol. By slowing down cholesterol production, they improve the liver’s…


Stem Cells

Cells that have the ability to divide for indefinite periods and, under the right conditions, give rise to many different types of cells. Some scientists believe that stem cells are a promising avenue for curing a number of different diseases, including…


Stress Test

Evaluation of the heart while it is working harder and beating faster than usual, such as during exercise. Stress testing may help uncover heart problems that may not be evident while the body is at rest…


Stroke

Damage to brain tissue caused by a disruption in blood flow to the brain. Strokes can be fatal and can result in temporary or permanent disability. Common aftereffects of a stroke include paralysis, weakness, muscular contractions, loss of sensation, and…


Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Abrupt loss of heart function. Sudden cardiac arrest is often fatal. The victim of sudden cardiac death may or may not have diagnosed heart disease, but the most common cause of sudden cardiac death is coronary heart disease. According to the American…


Sugar Alcohols

Carbohydrates that have been chemically transformed into alcohols. Sugar alcohols are less sweet and less caloric than table sugar. Because they are absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly than sugar, sugar alcohols don’t raise blood glucose levels as…


Sulfonylureas

A class of drugs used in treating Type 2 diabetes. The first line of treatment for Type 2 diabetes consists of dietary changes and exercise, which help people with diabetes lose weight, improve the way their bodies make and use insulin, and lower blood…


Surrogate Beta Cells

Cells that have been genetically manipulated to act like the beta cells of the pancreas, which sense glucose levels and make and release insulin. It is hoped that surrogate beta cells could some day be used to treat diabetes…


Syndrome X

See Metabolic Syndrome


T Cells

A type of lymphocyte (one of the varieties of white blood cell) that plays an important role in the immune response. The “T” stands for thymus-derived, since the thymus is the organ in which the T cells’ final stage of development occurs…


Therapeutic Touch

A type of “energy medicine” in which the practitioner moves his hands over the person’s body in an attempt to strengthen or reorient the person’s energies. Energy medicine is a form of complementary medicine based on belief in a life force…


Thiazolidinediones

A class of oral diabetes drugs, commonly nicknamed “glitazones.” Unlike the traditional oral drugs called sulfonylureas, which lower blood glucose levels by making the pancreas secrete more insulin, the thiazolidinediones work by helping the body’s…


Tight Control

A method of intensive diabetes self-management that involves keeping blood glucose levels as close as possible to normal without causing severe or frequent episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), in the aim of preventing complications of diabetes…


Trans Fatty Acids

Fatty acids that are produced when food manufacturers hydrogenate fats and oils. This not only changes their texture, but also their effects in the body: In many ways, trans fatty acids resemble saturated fatty acids, and a diet high in trans fatty acids…


Transient Ischemic Attack

A temporary interruption of blood supply (and oxygen) to part of the brain, also known as a ministroke. The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) are similar to those of a stroke, which include numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg…


Trigger Finger

A painful condition that causes catching or locking of a finger as it is extended. Trigger finger is due to overgrowth of tissue in the tendon sheath (the protective membrane) of the flexor muscles, the muscles that ordinarily allow fingers to curl…


Triglycerides

The main storage form of fat in the body. Most are found in fat tissue, but some circulate in the bloodstream to provide fuel for the body’s cells. The triglyceride molecule is composed of three fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule…


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas…


Type 1.5 Diabetes

A form of diabetes sometimes called “double diabetes,” in which an adult has aspects of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Over the past three decades, diabetes researchers have gradually fine-tuned the classification of different underlying diseases that comprise diabetes…


Type 2 Diabetes

In Type 2 diabetes, there are two main underlying reasons for high blood glucose: insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not use insulin efficiently, and insufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas…


U-500 Insulin

A form of insulin that is five times as concentrated as standard U-100 insulin…


Urine Glucose Test

Test for glycosuria, the excretion of glucose in the urine. The test for urine glucose uses a small dipstick that changes color after it has been dipped in urine. Matching the color on the dipstick against a chart on the test package reveals whether there is glucose in the urine…


Vanadium

A trace nutritional element that occurs naturally in plants and animals. It was first described as a potential medicinal agent for a variety of ills (including diabetes) in 1899…


Varicose Veins

Enlarged veins that typically appear as cords bulging through the skin. They are commonly seen on the backs of the calves or the insides of the thighs and may be dark purple or blue in color…


Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF)

A growth factor, or protein, that encourages the growth of cells on the inner walls of blood vessels (endothelial cells). It appears to play an important role in angiogenesis, the development and growth of new blood vessels, which has widespread effects throughout the body…


Vitiligo

A disorder in which melanocytes, the cells that make pigment in the skin, the mucous membranes, and the retina of the eye, are destroyed, leading to the development of white patches on the skin. Studies have suggested that vitiligo may be more common in people with Type 1 diabetes…


White Coat Hypertension

A condition in which blood pressure is high in the doctor’s office but generally seems to be normal at other times. Many experts believe that nervousness may be responsible for this temporary rise in blood pressure. Opinions differ, however, as to whether the condition may be safely ignored…


Xenotransplantation

The grafting of cells, tissues, or entire organs from one species to another. Today, the number of people needing organ transplants far exceeds the supply of human donor organs…


Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

I often get infections after clipping my toenails. Why might this be? Get tip


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