A drop of blod on a young African American woman's fingertip. She is preparing to perform a blood sugar test.
A drop of blod on a young African American woman's fingertip. She is preparing to perform a blood sugar test.
Submitted by AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia

Diabetes is 1 of the fastest growing conditions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 29.1 million people have diabetes. That is about 1 out of every 11 people. The rates are even higher for African Americans and Latinos. Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, over 52,000 D.C. residents have been diagnosed with diabetes. It is most common in Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8.

Understanding Diabetes

There are different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually found in children and young adults. But it only accounts for about 5 percent of diagnosed cases. Type 2 diabetes is more common. It occurs in 90 percent to 95 percent of diagnosed cases. Most people with type 2 diabetes develop it later in life. The good news is type 2 diabetes is preventable.

Type 2 diabetes is tied to how we eat and exercise. Our bodies turn the food we eat into a sugar called glucose. Glucose is like gasoline for our bodies. It fuels our cells and gives us energy. To control the glucose, our bodies create a hormone called insulin. If you have diabetes, your body’s insulin does not work as it should. This causes glucose to build up in your blood. Over time, this can damage blood vessels and nerve endings. This can cause serious health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Vision problems, which can lead to blindness
  • Loss of feeling in feet or hands, which can lead to loss of limbs
  • Itching and skin infections

Some of the warning signs of diabetes may be:

  • Being very thirsty or hungry
  • Feeling tired for no reason
  • Going to the bathroom more than usual
  • Losing weight for no reason
  • Having cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
  • Having trouble seeing (blurry vision)
  • Losing feeling or tingling in your hands or feet

Get Checked

If you think you may have diabetes, talk to your doctor and get checked. This is very important if the condition runs in your family. If you are living with diabetes, be sure to get the following tests:

  • The hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C) test is a blood test that shows how well you are controlling your diabetes. This should be done every 3 to 6 months.
  • The microalbumin test is a urine test to check for kidney damage. This should be done once a year.
  • A dilated eye exam widens the pupils so the eye doctor can see the back of eyes better and other parts of your eye with more detail. This should be done once a year.

Controlling Diabetes

Follow these steps toward a healthy lifestyle that helps you control diabetes:

  • Eat a healthy diet. The foods we eat become the glucose our bodies control. Sugars, starches and fats turn into glucose faster than other foods. When our bodies have to absorb glucose faster, it’s harder to keep things balanced. This makes it harder for insulin to work. Watch your portions and include foods that break down more slowly. These include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
  • Lower your cholesterol. When cholesterol is high, the insides of large blood vessels get clogged. That makes it easier for them to be damaged by diabetes. You can cut back on cholesterol by watching what you eat. Look out for saturated fats and trans fats on food labels. Saturated fats are found in red meat, full-fat dairy products and some oils. Trans fats are found in margarines and store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes. Swap red meat with fish and lean turkey. And choose low-fat dairy products and cook with healthier fats like olive oil.
  • Exercise daily. Physical activity can help you control your blood glucose, weight and blood pressure. It can reduce stress and help prevent blood flow problems. This reduces your risk of heart disease and nerve damage. Try exercising for at least 30 minutes each day, or 60 minutes for children. Routine is important.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking raises your blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure. When you have diabetes and use tobacco, the risk of heart and blood vessel problems is even greater.
  • Lose that extra weight. Extra weight, especially belly fat, makes it hard for cells to respond to insulin. Often, people with type 2 diabetes can lower their blood glucose by losing weight.
  • Talk to your doctor about treatment options and medicines that can lower your blood sugar. And be sure to take all medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, MedlinePlus, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and DC Department of Health. All images are used under license for illustrative purposes only. Any individual depicted is a model.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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