What is Diabetes?

According to the National Diabetes Education Program, diabetes is at epidemic levels in African Americans.

  • 3.7 million or 14.7% of all African Americans aged 20 years or older have diabetes.
  • African Americans are 1.6 times more likely than whites to have diabetes.
  • 25% of African Americans between ages 65 and 74 have diabetes.

The following information from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse can help you learn more about this important health problem affecting African Americans.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes means your blood glucose (also called blood sugar) is too high. Your blood always has some glucose in it because your body needs glucose for energy. But too much glucose in the blood is not good for your health.

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 hormone made by the pancreas. The pancreas releases insulin into the blood to  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 cannot get into your cells. It stays in your blood instead. Your blood glucose level then gets too high, causing pre-diabetes or diabetes.

What is pre-diabetes?

Pre-diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a medical diagnosis of diabetes. People with pre-diabetes have greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes and for heart disease and stroke. The good news? If you have pre-diabetes, you may be able to reduce your risk of getting diabetes. Your doctor can test your blood sugar to see if you have pre-diabetes and help you develop a plan to try to prevent diabetes or possibly return to healthy levels.

What are the signs of diabetes?

The signs of diabetes are:

  • Being very thirsty.
  • Urinating often.
  • Feeling very hungry or tired.
  • Losing weight without trying.
  • Having sores that heal slowly.
  • Having dry, itchy skin.
  • Losing the feeling in your feet or having tingling in your feet.
  • Having blurry eyesight.

You may have had one or more of these signs before you found out you had diabetes. Or you may have had no signs at all. A blood test to check your glucose levels will show if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.  See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

What are the types of diabetes?

Type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes are the three main kinds:

  • Type 1 diabetes. Formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. With this form of diabetes, the pancreas no longer makes insulin.
  • 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 when fat, muscle, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas keeps up with the added demand by making more insulin. In time, it loses the ability to release enough insulin in response to meals.
  • Gestational diabetes. Some women develop gestational diabetes during the late stages of pregnancy. Although this form of diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, a woman who has had it is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Gestational diabetes is caused by the hormones of pregnancy or a shortage of insulin.

Why you need to take care of your diabetes

After many years, diabetes can lead to serious problems with your eyes, kidneys, nerves, and gums and teeth. But the most serious problem caused by diabetes is heart disease. When you have diabetes, you are more than twice as likely as people without diabetes to have heart disease or a stroke.

Learn how you can try to prevent or delay long-term problems. The best way to take care of your health is to work with your health care team to keep your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol in your target range.


Click on the links below to learn more.


National Diabetes Education Program, The Diabetes Epidemic Among African Americans


American Diabetes Association   http://www.diabetes.org/communityprograms-and-localevents/latinos/por-tu-familia.jsp 

This information is for education only. It is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.


Reviewed by:

Richard L. Lane MD., Managing Medical Director, KY

Lynette Cooper RN CMCN  Legal Specialist Sr