Diabetes Dictionary

Acanthosis Nigricans

A dermatological disorder present in association with endocrine diseases (i.e., diabetes, obesity, pituitary tumors, or Cushing's disease). It is characterized by brown, velvety hyperkeratotic patches in the body folds.


A drug used as a treatment for Type 2 (noninsulin-dependent) diabetes; belongs to a class of drugs called alpha-glucosidase inhibitors.
See also: Oral hypoglycemic agents

ACE Inhibitor

A type of drug used to lower blood pressure. Studies indicate that it may also help prevent or slow the progression of kidney disease in people with diabetes.


A "first-generation" sulfonylurea pill taken to lower the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Only some people with Type 2 diabetes take these pills.
See also: Oral hypoglycemic agents, Sulfonylureas.


A chemical formed in the blood when the body uses fat instead of glucose (sugar) for energy. If acetone forms, it usually means that the cells do not have enough insulin, or cannot use the insulin that is in the blood, to use glucose for energy. Acetone passes through the body into the urine. Someone with a lot of acetone in the body can have breath that smells fruity and is called "acetone breath."
See also: Ketone bodies.


Too much acid in the body. For a person with diabetes, this can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis.


Happens for a limited period of time; abrupt onset; sharp, severe.

Adrenal Glands

Two organs that sit on top of the kidneys and make and release hormones such as adrenalin (epinephrine). This and other hormones, including insulin, control the body's use of glucose (sugar).

Adult-Onset Diabetes

Former term for Type 2 diabetes.

Adverse Effect

A harmful result.


More than normal amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine. Albuminuria may be a sign of kidney disease, a problem that can occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time.

Aldose Reductase

An enzyme that is normally present in the eye and in many other parts of the body. It changes glucose (sugar) into a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Too much sorbitol trapped in eye and nerve cells seems to damage these cells, and may be part of the cause of diabetic retinopathy and neuropathy. There are medications that interfere with aldose reductase.

Aldose Reductase Inhibitor

A class of drugs that prevent or slow (inhibit) the action of aldose reductase; are being studied as a way to prevent or delay these complications of diabetes.

Alpha Cell

A type of cell in the pancreas (in areas called the islets of Langerhans). Alpha cells make and release a hormone called glucagon, which raises the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood.
See also beta cell; delta cell.

Amino Acid

The building blocks of proteins; the main material of the body's cells. Insulin is made of 51 amino acids joined together.


A type of diabetic neuropathy that causes muscle weakness and wasting.


Disease of the blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) that occurs when someone has diabetes for a long time. There are two types of angiopathy: macroangiopathy and microangiopathy. In macroangiopathy, fat and blood clots build up in the large blood vessels, stick to the vessel walls, and block the flow of blood. In microangiopathy, the walls of the smaller blood vessels become so thick and weak that they bleed, leak protein, and slow the flow of blood through the body. Then the cells, for example, the ones in the center of the eye, do not get enough blood and may be damaged.


Birth defects; abnormalities.


One agent that opposes or fights the action of another. For example, insulin lowers the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood, whereas glucagon raises it; therefore, insulin and glucagon are antagonists.


Proteins that the body makes to protect itself from foreign substances. Occasionally, the body also makes proteins against normal parts of the body. These proteins are called autoantibodies.

  1. Exogenous Antibodies: In either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, the body sometimes makes antibodies to work against pork or beef insulins because they are not exactly the same as human insulin or because they have impurities. These antibodies can keep the insulin from working well and may rarely cause the person with diabetes to have an allergic or bad reaction to the beef or pork insulins.
  2. Endogenous Antibodies: In Type 1 diabetes, several different autoantibodies against normal tissues are found. These antibodies are associated with the destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas, although their exact role is uncertain. Some of the autoantibodies which are found in diabetes patients include: islet-cell antibodies (ICAs), anti-insulin antibodies (AIAs), and anti-GAD antibodies.

Antidiabetic Agent

A substance that helps a person with diabetes control the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood so that the body works as it should.
See also: Insulin; oral hypoglycemic agents.


Substances that cause an immune response in the body. The body "sees" the antigens as harmful or foreign. To fight them, the body produces antibodies, which attack and try to eliminate the antigens.


An agent that kills bacteria. Alcohol is a common antiseptic. Before injecting insulin, many people use alcohol to clean their skin to avoid infection.


A group of diseases in which the walls of the arteries get thick and hard. In one type of arteriosclerosis, fat builds up inside the walls and slows the blood flow. These diseases often occur in people who have had diabetes for a long time.


A large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Arteries are thicker and have walls that are stronger and more elastic than the walls of veins.
See also: Blood vessels.

Arthropathy, neuropathic

See Charcot Foot.

Artificial Pancreas

A large machine used in hospitals that constantly measures glucose (sugar) in the blood and, in response, releases the right amount of insulin. Scientists are also working to develop a small unit that could be implanted in the body, functioning like a real pancreas.


A man-made sweetener that people use in place of sugar because it has very few calories.


No symptoms; no clear sign of disease present.


One of many diseases in which fat builds up in the large- and medium-sized arteries. This buildup of fat may slow down or stop blood flow. This disease can happen to people who have had diabetes for a long time.

Autoimmune Disease

Disorder of the body's immune system in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys body tissue that it believes to be foreign. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease because the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.

Autoimmune polyglandular syndrome

A group of autoimmune disorders that involve endocrine glands and which result in failure of the glands to produce their hormones. (Also called autoimmune endocrine failure syndrome, autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome, and immunoendocrinopathy syndrome.)

  1. Type I
    A disorder that includes hypoparathyroidism, candidiasis and Addison's disease (adrenal gland failure). 15% have autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes. It has recently been shown that there is a mutation in the AIRE (AutoImmune REgulator) gene on chromosome 21.
  2. Type II
    A disorder in which two or more autoimmune conditions are found. 50% show Type 1 autoimmune diabetes and another associated condition, which may include Addison's disease, the celiac syndrome, vitiligo, pernicious anemia, myasthenia gravis, Graves' disease, and others.

Autonomic Neuropathy

A disease of the nerves affecting mostly the internal organs such as the bladder muscles, the cardiovascular system, the digestive tract, and the genital organs. These nerves are not under a person's conscious control and function automatically. Also called visceral neuropathy.
See also: Neuropathy and Gastroparesis.