A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming. Whether it’s you, a friend or a family member, something that can help you feel more in control is familiarizing yourself with the disease and the terms used to describe it so you can confidently speak with your health care providers when discussing your condition, and with friends and family members who may want to know what you’re going through and how they can help. Having this knowledge can also help you feel empowered as you move forward with a management plan.
Key terms related to diabetes
If you have Type 1 diabetes, it means that your pancreas does not produce any insulin, the hormone that helps your body control the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood. People with Type 1 diabetes require insulin injections or an insulin pump.
With Type 2 diabetes, either your body can’t make enough insulin, or it doesn’t properly use the insulin it does produce. This is the most common form of diabetes, and accounts for 90% of diabetes cases in Canada.
When your blood sugar level is higher than it should be, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, you may have prediabetes. In Canada, 11 million people, one in three Canadians, are currently living with diabetes or prediabetes.1 In the United States, of the 88 million people (also one in three) with prediabetes, 84% don’t even know they have it.2It’s worth noting that people who develop Type 2 diabetes almost always had prediabetes first. Among other tests, your doctor may order an A1C test to determine if you have prediabetes. Visit the CDC for information on risk factors and lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
As the name implies, this is diabetes that is diagnosed for the very first time during pregnancy. Blood sugars usually return to normal soon after giving birth, but women who have had gestational diabetes, as well as the children they carried, are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and should be tested more frequently.
Insulin is a hormone created by your pancreas that controls the amount of sugar in your bloodstream and helps your body use it for energy. When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make insulin, make enough of it, or use what it is able to produce properly.
Blood sugar/blood glucose
Blood glucose, also often referred to as blood sugar, is a type of sugar that you get from foods that you eat. Your body uses the sugar for energy, and it travels in your bloodstream to your cells. People with diabetes have higher-than-normal levels of glucose in their blood, and either they don’t have enough insulin to move the glucose from their blood into the cells that use them for energy, or their cells don’t respond to insulin as well as they should.
Carbohydrates are found in food and beverages. The three main types are starches (found in starchy vegetables, dried beans and grains), sugar (found naturally occurring in things like fruit, and added in things like cookies) and fiber (found in animal products like eggs, meat or fish). Your body breaks down carbs into sugar (glucose), which then raises the level of glucose in your blood. A healthy body uses glucose as energy.
A1C is a blood test that measures your average blood sugar levels over the past 120 days. Most people should aim for an A1C of 7% or less through good management of blood sugar. Make sure to discuss your target A1C percentage with your health care provider as they are different for pregnant women, older adults and children under age 12. The test can be used to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes, but it’s also used to monitor the glucose control of people with diabetes over time.
If your blood sugar levels are too high, it’s called hyperglycemia.
When blood sugar levels are too low, which can sometimes be caused by not consuming enough carbohydrates or an imbalance in medications, it’s called hypoglycemia.
Blood glucose monitoring
It’s important to try to keep your blood sugar as close as possible to the target range your doctor has recommended for you in order to delay or prevent complications related to diabetes. A blood glucose meter, also called a glucometer, and test strips are used to check your blood sugar at home. The glucometer analyzes a small drop of your blood collected on a test strip. Always make sure you are trained on how to use your glucometer.
For more information on diabetes, including risks, management, nutrition and fitness, visit Diabetes Canada.
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417965C CAN/US 12/20