We’re Saying the Same Thing, but Using Different Words: Insulin

Have you ever been to a medical appointment and felt like your healthcare team was speaking a whole different language? If so, you're not alone. There are so many medical terms used to describe everything from diagnoses to medications.

I thought I'd provide a guide to bring together "layman's" terms and medical jargon into one neat package. Below, you will find medical terms that are most associated with insulin treatment as it related to type 2 diabetes care.1

Complicated words associated with insulin injection

Prandial: The timing that coordinates with meals. Prandial is usually used to describe the timing for blood sugar checks or insulin doses.

Injection rotation*: Changing your insulin injection sites to different areas of your body with each dose. Injection rotation is essential as it helps insulin absorb well and lowers lipodystrophy risk.
Other terms used to describe injection rotation include:

  • Site rotation
  • Changing sites
  • Moving injection sites
  • Shot rotation
  • Injection pattern

*Some folks can misinterpret what rotation means. Rotation does NOT mean you rotate your needle once it's in your skin.

Lipodystrophy: Skin changes that happen at insulin injection sites. Skin changes can include excess fat tissue building up under the skin or fat tissue shrinking away from under the skin.
Additional terms used to describe lipodystrophy include:

  • Scar tissue
  • Fat lip
  • "Lipo"
  • Skin dimple
  • Skin divot

Prime: A technique used to fill an insulin pen needle full of insulin before injection. The prime approach also checks that the pen needle is in working order before your injection. Prime can be called need check, fill, or prep.

Terms associated with insulin dosing

Basal/Bolus: A way to describe an insulin dosing pattern that most closely matches your body's natural patterns. This can also be called multiple-daily injections (MDI).

Basal: A way to describe insulin that replaces your body's 24-hour insulin needs. Basal insulin is delivered continuously from an insulin pump, or with 1-2 injections a day.
Other descriptions for basal are:

  • Ultra-long-acting insulin
  • Long-acting insulin
  • Once-a-day insulin
  • "Night-time" insulin

Food bolus: A way to describe how insulin is used to replace your body's needs at meals. Bolus insulin is delivered on-demand from an insulin pump or with injections at each of your meals. 
Additional descriptions for food bolus include:

  • Rapid-acting insulin or fast-acting insulin
  • Meal-time insulin or food insulin
  • Prandial insulin
  • Regular insulin
  • Insulin to carb ratio or carb ratio
  • Set dose or base dose

Correction bolus: A way to describe how insulin is used to lower a high blood sugar level. Bolus insulin is delivered on-demand from an insulin pump, or with injections. 
More descriptions for correction bolus are:

  • Rapid-acting insulin or fast-acting insulin
  • Correction insulin
  • Regular insulin
  • Extra insulin dose
  • Sliding scale
  • Correction dose
  • Insulin sensitivity factor

Insulin to carb ratio (ICR)*: The number of units of insulin that should be given for a certain amount of carbohydrate. It allows flexibility in meal sizes because insulin dosing is based on how much one eats.  An example is 1:15 or 1 unit of rapid-acting insulin for every 15 grams of carbohydrate. 
Other terms for insulin to carb ratio include:

  • Meal-time insulin
  • Food insulin
  • Carb ratio

*ICRs can be prescribed as 1 unit per gram of carb or 1 unit per carb choice. This can make a big difference in your insulin dose, so make sure you clearly understand your prescription.

Insulin sensitivity factor (ISF): The amount of 1 unit of insulin that is expected to lower your blood sugars to a healthy range. ISF can be calculated based on how much insulin you take daily. The insulin sensitivity factor is also described as a correction factor.

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