Are you confused by all the medical terms surrounding diabetes or interested in learning more about the condition? Understanding diabetes and its related words is essential for optimal management, so we have compiled a comprehensive glossary of commonly associated vocabulary.

This diabetes glossary will equip you with the terminology to communicate confidently with healthcare professionals and effectively take control of your treatment.

Beta cells

Beta cells are a type of cell found in the pancreas that produce, store and release insulin.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)

Diseases and injuries of the circulatory system: the heart, the blood vessels of the heart and the system of blood vessels throughout the body and to (and in) the brain. CVD generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels.

Diabetes complications

Acute and chronic conditions caused by diabetes. Acute complications include diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), hyperglycaemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS), hyperglycaemic diabetic coma, seizures or loss of consciousness and infections. Chronic microvascular complications include retinopathy (eye disease), nephropathy (kidney disease), neuropathy (nerve disease) and periodontitis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the tooth). Whereas, chronic macrovascular complications are cardiovascular disease (disease of the circulatory system), diabetic encephalopathy (brain dysfunction) and diabetic foot (foot ulceration and amputation).

Diabetes (mellitus)

A condition arising when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot effectively use insulin. The three most common types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational.

Diabetic foot

A foot that exhibits any disease that results directly from diabetes or a complication of diabetes.

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM)

High blood glucose levels, called hyperglycaemia, first detected during pregnancy, are classified as either gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) or diabetes mellitus in pregnancy. Women with slightly elevated blood glucose levels are classified as having GDM, and women with substantially elevated blood glucose levels are classified as women with diabetes in pregnancy.


A hormone produced in the pancreas. If blood glucose levels decrease, glucagon triggers the body to release stored glucose into the bloodstream.


Also called dextrose or blood sugar. The main sugar the body produces to store energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Glucose is the major source of energy for living cells and is carried to each cell through the bloodstream. However, the cells cannot use glucose without the help of insulin.


A form of glucose that is used for storing energy in the liver and muscles. If blood glucose levels decrease, the hormone glucagon triggers the body to convert glycogen to glucose and release it into the bloodstream.

Glycosylated haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c)

Haemoglobin to which glucose is bound. Glycosylated haemoglobin is tested to determine the average level of blood glucose over the past two to three months.


A high blood glucose level. This occurs when the body does not have enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it has to turn glucose into energy. Signs of hyperglycaemia include excessive thirst, dry mouth and need to urinate often.


A low blood glucose level. This occurs when a person with diabetes has injected too much insulin, eaten too little food, or has exercised without extra food. A person with hypoglycaemia may feel nervous, shaky, weak, or sweaty, and have a headache, blurred vision and hunger.

Impaired fasting glucose (IFG)

Blood glucose that is higher than normal blood glucose, but below the diagnostic threshold for diabetes after fasting, typically after an overnight fast.

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT)

Blood glucose that is higher than normal blood glucose, but below the diagnostic threshold for diabetes after ingesting a standard amount of glucose during an oral glucose tolerance test.


A hormone produced in the pancreas. If blood glucose levels increase, insulin triggers cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and convert it to energy, and the liver to take up glucose from the bloodstream and store it as glycogen.

Monogenic diabetes

A less common type of diabetes, caused by a genetic mutation. Examples include Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) and Neonatal Diabetes Mellitus.


Damage, disease, or dysfunction of the peripheral nerves, which can cause numbness or weakness.


An organ located behind the stomach that produces several important hormones, including insulin and glucagon.


An inflammatory disease that affects the tissues that surround and support the teeth. Also known as gum disease.


A disease of the retina, which may cause visual impairment and blindness.

Secondary diabetes

A less common type of diabetes, categorised in other types of diabetes, arising as a complication of other diseases (eg hormone disturbances or diseases of the pancreas).

Type 1 diabetes

People with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin. The condition can affect people of any age, but onset usually occurs in children or young adults.

Type 2 diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes cannot use insulin to turn glucose into energy. Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 and occurs mainly in adults. However, it is also increasingly diagnosed in children and young adults.

An introduction to diabetes

The IDF School of Diabetes offers a free 20-minute online course about diabetes. The course introduces the main types of diabetes and explains the warning signs and risk factors.

Take the course