The Diabetes Epidemic Among African Americans

A diabetic woman testing her blood glucose level

• Diabetes is a group of diseases
marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin
production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can lead to serious complications
and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the
disease and lower the risk of complications.

• Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the
United States. Total health care and
related costs for the treatment of
diabetes run about $132 billion annually.

• Type 1 diabetes (formerly
called juvenile diabetes) results when the body’s immune system attacks and
destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. People with type
1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump. Symptoms of type
1 diabetes – increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss,
blurred vision, and extreme fatigue – usually develop over a short period of
time. If type 1 diabetes is not diagnosed and treated, a person can lapse into a
life-threatening coma. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5% to 10% of all diagnosed
cases of diabetes.

• Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) occurs when the
body does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes
effectively. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 40
but is becoming more prevalent in younger age groups including children and
adolescents. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes – feeling tired or ill, unusual
thirst, frequent urination especially at night, weight loss, blurred vision,
frequent infections, and slow-healing wounds – may develop gradually and may not
be as noticeable as in type 1 diabetes. Some people have no symptoms.Type 2
diabetes accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. The
following factors increase a person’s chances of having type 2 diabetes: a
family history of diabetes, being a member of an ethnic group such as African
Americans, being overweight or obese, having had diabetes while pregnant
(gestational diabetes), having high blood pressure, having abnormal cholesterol
(lipid) levels, and not getting enough physical activity.

• Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. Women who have had
gestational diabetes have a 20 to 50 percent chance of developing diabetes,
mostly type 2, in the next 5 – 10 years.