Terms explained

Cardiovascular disease

A general term for disease of the heart and blood vessels. It is usually caused by a narrowing of the blood vessels that mean blood can't flow to the heart, brain, feet or other parts of the body properly. Heart disease and stroke are common forms of severe cardiovascular disease.

HbA1c test

A blood test that reflects the average blood glucose level over the previous 2 to 3 months. The result is usually given in mmol/mol (it used to be given as a percentage). In people without diabetes, it is usually below 42 mmol/mol (or 6%).


A higher than normal level of glucose in the blood. Symptoms include feeling thirsty and hungry, and increased urination. Over time, hyperglycaemia also increases the risk of eye, nerve, kidney and cardiovascular disease.

Hypo (hypoglycaemia)

A lower than normal level of glucose in the blood – usually less than 3.5 mmol/litre. The symptoms of a hypo include feeling dizzy (or even losing consciousness), feeling tired, feeling hungry, shaking and sweating. It is important to recognise the warning signs of a hypo.


A medicine (tablet) that lowers blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes through improving the action of insulin.


Another name for kidney disease. Type 2 diabetes can cause the small blood vessels in the kidneys to be damaged so that they stop working properly. The earliest sign is having a protein called albumin in the urine.


Damage or disease that affects the nerves. Type 2 diabetes can cause neuropathy as a result of damage to the small blood vessels that supply nerves. Because nerves affect all parts of the body, neuropathy can have a number of effects.

'Off-label' use

In the UK, medicines are licensed to show that they work well enough and are safe enough to be used for specific conditions and groups of people. Some medicines can also be helpful for conditions or people they do not have a licence for. This is called 'off‑label' use. Off‑label use might also mean the medicine is taken at a different dose or in a different way to the licence, such as using a cream or taking a tablet. There is more information about licensing medicines on NHS Choices.


An eye condition where the retina (the seeing part of the eye) is damaged. Type 2 diabetes can cause the small blood vessels around the retina to become blocked or leaky, or grow in the wrong way, so that light can't pass through properly.


Diabetes medicines that help the body to make insulin.

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