Diabetic Dictionary

Diabetes has been like a second language to me since I was 7 years old. I forget that when I casually use words like "bolus" and "BG" or phrases like "I'm really high" or "I need change my basal rate," people without Type 1 Diabetes don't always know what I'm saying. Below is a Diabetic Dictionary of the terminology and slang present in the vocabulary of a Type 1 Diabetic.

You can find Frequently Asked Questions here and a breakdown of Type 1 Diabetes in this blog post.


"I have to lower my basal rate before pilates"

Basal, or basal rate, is the way that insulin is slowly released into my body throughout the day. Basal is defined as "slow acting" insulin. Even when I'm not having carbohydrate, my body needs insulin to survive. The main goal is to keep blood glucose levels within target range. The basal rate is individualized to the diabetic based on their lifestyle. For example, the basal rate will be lowered (meaning less insulin) when a diabetic exercises. Exercise brings BG levels down normally, as does insulin, so less is needed.


"My BG was way over target!"

BG stands for Blood Glucose. This is a measurement of the amount of glucose in the blood stream, measured in milligrams over deciliters (mg/dL). The target BG for a person without diabetes is 70mg/dL-110mg/dL. My target is 100mg/dL-150mg/dL. 


"I'm giving myself a bolus for that taco"

Bolus is the opposite of Basal. The same insulin is being used but instead of slowly being released into the body 24 hours a day, it's a BURST of insulin used to correct a high BG or compensate for a food containing carbohydrates. 


"My CGM woke me up at 4 A.M to tell me I was low"

CGM is a Continuous Glucose Monitor. As the name says, this device is continuously monitoring my blood glucose (BG). I only check my BG using a meter twice a day when wearing the CGM, and that's only to calibrate the device. 


The CGM sends the BG numbers that it's monitoring to my pump and the pump can adjust the basal rate to lower or raise my BG.


"I had to go to the hospital because I was in DKA"

DKA stands for Diabetic Ketoacidosis. Diabetics are almost always in some stage of DKA upon diagnosis and it is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. This is when the body has ZERO insulin, so blood glucose (BG) levels become so high that the body begins breaking down fat at a rapid rate.


The liver converts this fat into ketones, which make the blood extremely acidic. When our the PH in our blood changes this rapidly, our body does it's best to fix it and in this case leads to lots of vomiting and frequent urination. The liver produces these ketones as an alternative fuel source for the body since there's no insulin in the body to allow glucose entry into the cells to be utilized as energy. 


"I needed insulin to treat my hyper"

Also referred to in the Diabetic community as a "hyper," hyperglycemia is a medical term for HIGH blood glucose (BG). A hyper is a BG usually above 200mg/dL, this is when diabetics tend to feel fatigued and short tempered. These feelings come from the lack of insulin helping the glucose into our cells to be used as energy. Without that assistance, we aren't getting the energy we need and start to feel lethargic. 

During a hyperglycemic episode, the body tries to rid itself of the excess sugar through urination. This high volume of urine output makes the body extremely thirsty because of the dehydration. 

Hyperglycemia is treated with the correct amount of insulin via pump or syringe to bring the BG back to target. This can take around 30 minutes.


"I'm dealing with a hypo right now, I need some juice!"

Hypoglycemia, or "hypo," is when the blood glucose (BG) levels are below 90mg/dL. This means that there is too much insulin in our body and not enough sugar. This could be due to a fast burning of the glucose from exercise or maybe a miscalculation of the carbohydrates in a food. 

Hypos are very dangerous because they make diabetics feel very dizzy and confused. Machinery shouldn't be operated when dealing with a hypo (I've even found myself unable to type a text due to a low BG). The best way to deal with this is with concentrated sugar such as juice, or candies like Skittles and Starbursts. About twenty minutes are needed for the body to process the sugar and raise the BG.

Even though carbohydrates are in a lot of foods, not all of them should be used to treat a hypoglycemic diabetic. When foods have equal parts fat and protein as carbohydrates, the speed of the sugar trying to raise the BG is slowed down. For example, bananas have a higher sugar content but also contain fat, that slows down the sugar. Hypos need to be treated fast!


"I had to give myself more insulin because my BG wasn't in target"

Insulin is a hormone released from beta cells that are made in the pancreas. This assists cells in converting glucose to energy. Insulin acts like a key that unlocks the cells so glucose can pass through. Insulin lowers blood glucose (BG) so without insulin, BG levels can become dangerously high. 

My body doesn't produce insulin. So I use synthetic insulin to lower my BG and keep it at homeostasis. Three days worth of insulin is held in the reservoir of my insulin pump. This attaches to any part of my body and releases insulin throughout the day (basal) and when I need it (bolus).