Diabetes is one of the most serious health problems that the African American community faces today. Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes.
To address this growing epidemic, the American Diabetes Association created program and materials to increase awareness of the seriousness of diabetes and its complications among African Americans.
November is National Diabetes Month. Here’s to managing your diabetes for a longer, healthier life.
There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes, but a healthy lifestyle can really reduce its impact on your life. What you do every day makes the difference: eating a healthy diet, being physically active, taking medicines if prescribed, and keeping health care appointments to stay on track.
More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes, but 1 out of 4 of them don’t know they have it. There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant, which can put the pregnancy and baby at risk and lead to type 2 diabetes later). With type 1 diabetes, your body can’t make insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar), so you need to take it every day. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes; about 5% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Most people with diabetes—9 out of 10—have type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to keep blood sugar at normal levels. If you have any of the risk factors below, ask your doctor if you should be tested for diabetes. The sooner you find out, the sooner you can start making healthy changes that will benefit you now and in the future.
Type 2 diabetes risk factors include
- Being overweight.
- Being 45 years or older.
- Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes.
- Being physically active less than 3 times a week.
- Ever having gestational diabetes or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds.
Race and ethnicity also matter: African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
You’ve Been Diagnosed with Diabetes. Now What?
It’s a balancing act—food, activity, medicine, and blood sugar levels—but you can do it. Manage your diabetes throughout the day by
- Following a healthy eating plan, including eating more fruits and vegetables and less sugar and salt.
- Getting physically active —10 to 20 minutes a day is better than only an hour once a week.
- Taking diabetes medicine as prescribed by your doctor.
- Testing your blood sugar regularly to understand and track how food, activity, and medicine affect your blood sugar levels.
Learning how to take care of your diabetes starts when you’re diagnosed, but it doesn’t stop there. As you get older or if your health status changes, your treatment plan may need to change too.
Know Your ABCs
Work with your doctor to manage your diabetes ABCs, and keep a record of your numbers. Results will help determine if your treatment plan is working and you’re able to stay in your target range—for example, an A1C of 7% or less—or if adjustments need to be made. Staying on track will help lower your risk of additional health problems.
- A—the A1C test, which measures average blood sugar over 2 to 3 months.
- B—blood pressure, the force of blood flow inside blood vessels.
- C—cholesterol, a group of blood fats that affect the risk of heart attack or stroke.
- s—stop smoking or don’t start.
People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for serious health complications, including
- Heart disease and stroke: People with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as people without diabetes, and at an earlier age.
- Blindness and eye problems: Diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the retina), cataract (clouding of the lens), and glaucoma (increase in fluid pressure in the eye) can all result in vision loss.
- Kidney disease: High blood sugar levels can damage the kidneys over time, long before you start to feel bad.
- Amputations: This means you could lose a foot or leg. Diabetes causes damage to blood vessels and nerves, particularly in the feet, and can lead to serious, hard-to-treat infections. Amputation may be necessary to keep the infection from spreading.
But controlling your blood sugar levels can help you avoid or delay these serious health complications, and treating complications as soon as possible can help prevent them from getting worse.
Put Care on Your Calendar
Every day: stay active, eat a healthy diet, and take medication if prescribed; check feet for redness, swelling, pain, or sores.
Each health care visit (at least 4 times a year): blood pressure check; foot check.
Twice a year: A1C test; dental checkup.
Once a year: cholesterol test; kidney function test; podiatrist (foot doctor) and eye doctor visits; flu shot (and other vaccines as recommended by your doctor).
Living with diabetes has its ups and downs, but healthy lifestyle choices can give you more control over them. And more control means fewer health problems down the road and a better quality of life now.