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Dealing with Diabetes
Resources: Many organizations can help you manage the disease.

Quiz: How much do you know about diabetes?

Dealing With Diabetes

Learn about the disease and how to manage it.

What is Diabetes?
Diabetes means that your blood glucose (often called blood sugar) is too high. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy to keep you going. But too much glucose in the blood isn't good for your health.

How Do You Get High Blood Glucose?
Glucose comes from the food you eat and is also made in your liver and muscles. Your blood carries the glucose to all the cells in your body. Insulin is a chemical (a hormone) made by the pancreas. The pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin helps the glucose from food get into your cells. If your body doesn't make enough insulin or if the insulin doesn't work the way it should, glucose can't get into your cells. It stays in your blood instead. Your blood glucose level then gets too high, causing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 Diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. In this form of diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas no longer make insulin because the body's immune system has attacked and destroyed them. Treatment for type 1 diabetes includes taking insulin shots or using an insulin pump, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, taking aspirin daily (for some), and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

  • Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age--even during childhood. This form of diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, a condition in which fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by producing more insulin. In time, however, it loses the ability to secrete enough insulin in response to meals. Being overweight and inactive increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Treatment includes using diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, taking aspirin daily, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.

  • Gestational Diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that between two to five percent of pregnant women develop. This occurs among Hispanic women almost twice as often than among non-Hispanic women. Women who have had gestational diabetes are at risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes later in life.

What is Pre-Diabetes?
Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes are at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and for heart disease and stroke. The good news is if you have pre-diabetes, you can reduce your risk of getting diabetes. With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, you can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes and even return to normal glucose levels.

The Danger of Diabetes
When diabetes is undiagnosed or untreated, many long-term complications follow. These include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness, kidney disorders, loss of feeling in the feet and legs, and amputations.

Is the Hispanic Community at Risk?
Diabetes in Hispanic Americans is a serious health challenge because of the increased prevalence of diabetes in this population, the greater number of risk factors for diabetes in Hispanics, the greater incidence of several diabetes complications, and the growing number of people of Hispanic ethnicity in the United States.

The following statistics illustrate the magnitude of diabetes among Hispanic Americans:

  • In 2000, of the 30 million Hispanic Americans, about two million had been diagnosed with diabetes.

  • About 10.2 percent of all Hispanic Americans have diabetes.

  • On average, Hispanic Americans are 1.9 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites of similar age.

  • Diabetes is particularly common among middle-aged and older Hispanic Americans. For those age 50 or older, about 25 to 30 percent have either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes.

  • Diabetes is twice as common in Mexican American and Puerto Rican adults as in non-Hispanic whites. The prevalence of diabetes in Cuban Americans is lower, but still higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.

  • As in all populations, having risk factors for diabetes increases the chance that a Hispanic American will develop diabetes. Risk factors seem to be more common among Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. These factors include a family history of diabetes, gestational diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance, obesity, and physical inactivity.

  • Higher rates of the diabetes complications nephropathy (kidney disease), retinopathy (eye disease), and peripheral vascular disease have been documented in studies of Mexican Americans, whereas lower rates of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) have been found.

What are the Risk Factors for Diabetes?
The major risk factors associated with diabetes are:

  • Being over the age of 45.

  • Being overweight.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Low HDL-cholesterol or high triglycerides.

  • An inactive lifestyle.

  • Having a close family member (like a parent or sibling) who has or has had diabetes.

  • Having had diabetes when you were pregnant.

What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
The major symptoms of diabetes may include some or all of the following:

  • Urinating often.

  • Being very thirsty.

  • Feeling very hungry.

  • Feeling very tired.

  • Losing weight without trying.

  • Having sores that are slow to heal.

  • Having dry, itchy skin.

  • In women, genital itching and fungal infections (vulvovaginitis).

  • Losing feeling in your feet or having a tingling feeling in your feet.

  • Blurry vision.

If you are experiencing any of the above, a doctor can give you a blood test to help you determine whether or not you have diabetes.

The Good News: Diabetes Can Be Delayed or Prevented
Diabetes prevention is possible, powerful, and proven. Recent studies have shown that people at high-risk for diabetes can prevent or delay the onset of the disease with 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, and losing five to seven percent of their body weight. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, this means a 10 pound weight loss.

Living With Diabetes
People with diabetes need to know their "ABCs" - their A1C levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (A1C is a test of your blood sugar levels over the past three months, and tells you how well you are keeping your diabetes under control.) Sixty-five percent of people with diabetes die from heart disease and stroke, so keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as your blood sugar under control, is very important. People with diabetes also need to see their dentist at least twice a year, and have their feet and eyes checked regularly.

If you suffer from diabetes, you can live longer for your family, improve your health, and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by taking the additional following steps to manage your diabetes.

  • Test your blood glucose levels as instructed by your health care provider.

  • Eat the right amounts of food like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

  • Eat foods that are prepared with less salt and fat.

  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.

  • Stay at a healthy weight - by being active and eating the right amounts of healthy foods.

  • Stop smoking - seek help.

  • Take medicines the way your doctor tells you.

  • Ask your doctor about taking aspirin.

  • Ask your family and friends to help you take care of your heart and your diabetes.

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