Diabetes is one of the most serious and life-changing diseases among Americans today. With November serving as National Diabetes Month, physicians nationwide urge the public to take action against the disease which, according to a 2012 report from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, affects 8.3 percent of the U.S. population (or 25.8 million people).
Diabetes, particularly the “type 2” form of the disease, hits African Americans especially hard with approximately 5 million (or 18.7 percent of the non-Hispanic Black population) people living with the disease. Among all races, half of the people showing symptoms of diabetes don’t even know they have it—a startling revelation from a 2011 report from the National Diabetes Education Program.
According to the African American Community Health Advisory Committee, the disease is diagnosed in several forms—“type 1,” which is an autoimmune disease in which the body does not produce any insulin. It occurs most often in children and young adults. People with type 1 diabetes require daily insulin injections to live. About five to 10 percent of people with diabetes have this form. The symptoms include increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision and extreme fatigue.
“Type 2,” the most common form, is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body’s inability to make enough—or properly use—insulin, requiring the person to begin immediate treatment. These symptoms include: feeling tired or ill, unusual thirst, frequent need to urinate (especially at night), weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections and slow-healing wounds. Once called “adult onset diabetes,” the name was changed to encompass the increasing numbers of children and youth diagnosed with the disease.
According to a 2011 report from the African American Community Health Advisory Committee, African Americans are 1.7 times as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as the general population.
Type 2 diabetes can also develop in people who are thin. This is more common in the elderly.
Gestational diabetes develops in 2 to 5 percent of all pregnancies, but disappears when the pregnancy is over. However, women who have gestational diabetes have a 30- to 60-percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 10 to 20 years following diagnosis.
If there is a family history of diabetes, there is a possibility that your pancreas cannot keep up with the increased insulin demand during pregnancy, consequently blood glucose levels may rise too high, resulting in gestational diabetes.
According to the Mayo Clinic, for most women, gestational diabetes doesn’t cause noticeable signs or symptoms. Rarely, it may cause excessive thirst or increased urination.
Other forms of diabetes can result from specific genetic syndromes, surgery, drugs, malnutrition, infections and other illness. African Americans experience higher rates of at least three of the complications of the disease, including diabetic retinopathy (blindness) which occurs when the small blood vessels in the eye are weakened by diabetes. Blacks are twice as likely to have diabetes-related blindness; this complication is what caused Dodgers great Jackie Robinson to lose his sight.
A second complication comes when an excess of glucose builds up in the blood thereby causing failure of the lower extremities. African Americans are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to have a lower limb amputated, and are 2.5 to 5.6 times more like to suffer from kidney disease with more than 4,000 new cases annually of renal disease requiring a kidney transplant or regular dialysis.