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Diabetes: African Americans Deadly Foe

Diabetes is having a devastating effect on the African American community. Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death in African Americans and their death rates are twenty seven percent higher than whites.

Over 2.8 million African Americans have diabetes and one third of them don’t know they have the disease. In addition, twenty five percent of African Americans between the ages of 65 – 74 have diabetes and one in four African American women, over the age of 55, have been diagnosed with the disease

The cause of diabetes is a mystery, but researchers believe that both genetics and environmental factors play roles in who will develop the disease.

Heredity

Researchers believe that African Americans and African Immigrants are predisposed to developing diabetes. Research suggests that African Americans and recent African immigrants have inherited a "thrifty gene" from their African ancestors.

This gene may have enabled Africans to use food energy more efficiently during cycles of feast and famine. Now, with fewer cycles of feast and famine, this gene may make weight control more difficult for African Americans and African Immigrants.

This genetic predisposition, coupled with impaired glucose tolerance, is often associated with the genetic tendency toward high blood pressure. People with impaired glucose tolerance have higher than normal blood glucose levels and are at a higher risk for developing diabetes.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes, commonly know as “sugar diabetes”, is a condition that occurs when the body is unable to properly produce or use insulin. Insulin is needed by the body to process sugar, starches and other foods into energy. Diabetes is a chronic condition for which there is no known cure; diabetes is a serious disease and should not be ignored.

Diabetics often suffer from low glucose levels (sugar) in their blood. Low blood sugar levels can make you disorientated, dizzy, sweaty, hungry, have headaches, have sudden mood swings, have difficulty paying attention, or have tingling sensations around the mouth.

Types of Diabetes

Pre-diabetes is a condition that occurs when a person's blood glucose levels is higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of type II diabetes. Pre-diabetes can cause damage to the heart and circulatory system, but pre-diabetes can often be controlled by controlling blood glucose levels. By controlling pre-diabetes you can often prevent or delay the onset of Type II diabetes.

Type I or juvenile-onset diabetes usually strikes people under the age of 20, but can strike at any age. Five to ten percent of African Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes are diagnosed with this type of the disease. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body produces little or no insulin and this type of diabetes must be treated with daily insulin injections.

Type II or adult onset diabetes is responsible for ninety to ninety-five percent of diagnosed diabetes cases in African Americans. Type II results from a condition where the body fails to properly use insulin. According to the American Diabetes Association, “Type II is usually found in people over 45, who have diabetes in their family, who are overweight, who don't exercise and who have cholesterol problems.” In the early stages it can often be controlled with lifestyle changes, but in the later stages diabetic pills or insulin injections are often needed.

Pregnancy related diabetes or gestational diabetes can occur in pregnant women. Gestational diabetes is often associated with high glucose blood levels or hyperglycemia. Gestational diabetes affects about four percent of all pregnant women. The disease usually goes away after delivery, but women who suffer from gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for developing diabetes later in life.

Symptoms of Diabetes

The most common symptoms of diabetes include:

excessive urination including frequent trips to the bathroom

increased thirst

increased appetite

blurred vision

unusual weight loss

increased fatigue

irritability

Complications from Diabetes

Diabetes can lead to many disabling and life threatening complications. Strokes, blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and amputations are common complications that effect African Americans who have diabetes

Kidney Disease

“Diabetes is the second leading cause of end stage kidney disease in African Americans, accounting for about thirty percent of the new cases each year,” says the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois. Up to twenty-one percent of people who develop diabetes will develop kidney disease.

Amputations

Diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in the United States. More than sixty percent of non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in America occur among people with diabetes and African Americans are almost three times more likely to have a lower limb amputated due to diabetes than whites. According to Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 82,000 non-traumatic lower-limb amputations were performed among people with diabetes in 2001.

Blindness

African Americans are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes related blindness. Diabetics can develop a condition called “Diabetic Retinopathy”, a disease affecting the blood vessels of the eye, which can lead to impaired vision and blindness. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in people from 20 – 74 years of age and up to 24,000 people loose their sight each year because of diabetes.

Heart Disease

People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to develop heart disease as people who don’t have diabetes. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is more common in diabetics and can lead to increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, and poor circulation throughout the body.

Diabetes Risk Factors

You have a greater risk for developing diabetes if you have any of the following:

Obesity

Family history of diabetes

Pre-diabetes

Low physical activity

Age greater than 45 years

High blood pressure

High blood levels of triglycerides

HDL cholesterol of less than 35

Previous diabetes during pregnancy or baby weighing more than 9 pounds

Diabetes has had a devastating effect on the African American community; it is the fifth leading cause of death and second leading cause of end stage kidney disease in African Americans.

African Americans suffer from complications from diabetes at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. African Americans are three times more likely to have a lower limb amputated because of diabetes and twice as likely to suffer from diabetes related blindness.

If you have any of the diabetes risk factors you should contact your physician and have a blood glucose test. Also discuss with your physician lifestyle changes you can take to lower your chances of developing diabetes.

Drahcir Semaj is a freelance writer who writes about issues affecting African Americans. He can be contacted at drachir@drachirsemaj.com


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