Decoding Type 2 Diabetes Lingo: 6 Important Questions

Diabetes educators often have more time than doctors to answer questions.(ISTOCKPHOTO)If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it's not unusual to be confused by the avalanche of new information, or to feel like your physician isn't telling you everything you need to know.

"I've seen patients told they're diabetic and they're not given any materials," says Elizabeth Hardy, a Texas nurse with type 2 diabetes. When she got sick with sky-high blood sugar and pneumonia at the same time, she says, "I was very fortunate to go into a hospital that had a diabetes education program. I walked out of the hospital with some idea of what diabetes was."

It can take a while to get up to speed on a confusing array of medical terms, and bringing a friend or partner to your health-care visits can help.

More about type 2 diabetes

"Often, the diagnosis of diabetes can be overwhelming with many new terms and new prescriptions. The patient's physician, whether it's their primary care physician or their endocrinologist, may be providing them with a lot of information," says Katie Weinger of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "It's lucky if the patient can hear 50% of what's said."

Here are some common questions.

  • What's the difference between blood sugar and blood glucose, and why does my doctor keep talking about it? Answer: They're the same thing. It's your body's main source of energy, and the central problem in diabetes is that your body can't regulate and use it properly on its own, so you'll have to keep it controlled with food choices, exercise, and possibly medications.
  • Is insulin something I have in my body already, or is it a medication? Answer: It's both. If your body isn't making enough of the hormone insulin on its own, you'll have to take it in the form of medication.
  • What is an A1C? Answer: It's a common blood test that shows how high or low your blood sugar has been on average in the past few months. It's also called a hemoglobin A1C test.
  • What is hyperglycemia and how is related to hypertension? Answer: The first one means excessively high blood sugar, and the second means high blood pressure. Many people with diabetes also have high blood pressure.
  • What is medical nutrition therapy? Answer: It's an individualized meal and snack plan that can help you control your blood sugar.
  • Should I be worried about neuropathy, retinopathy, and nephropathy? Answer: Yes. Neuropathy is nerve damage, retinopathy is damage to the retina, and nephropathy is damage to the kidneys, and these are just some of the many complications diabetes can cause.

Most physicians don't have the time to tell you all the information you need to know. The person who will probably help you the most is a diabetes educator, a certified health professional whose mission is to help you understand and cope with the changes in your life.

In addition there is a wealth of information online. The National Institutes of Health has an online diabetes dictionary that might help, and the American Diabetes Association also has a comprehensive list of diabetes-related terms.

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