Diabetes: African-Americans Must Take This Health Thief Seriously

cover20Story by: Darwin Campbell,African-American News&Issues

HOUSTON-It is one of the most prevalent, yet ignored serious medical conditions facing African-American today.

Houston Family Physician Dr. Demetris A. Green has made educating African-Americans about the disease one of his top priorities.

“As African-Americans. We must be motivated to get screening done to make sure you are healthy,” Green said. “The best care is preventive care. Neglecting regular check ups and screening is a no-no and can cost you your health.”

Dr. Green is a graduate of Baylor College of Medicine and has an office at 2646 S Loop W Fwy, Houston, TX 77054.  He has practiced medicine in Houston for more than two decades.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations.

Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.

Other statistics indicate that:

African American adults are 70 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.

In 2008, African American men were 2.7 times as likely to start treatment for end-stage renal disease related to diabetes, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.

In 2008, diabetic African Americans were 1.7 times as likely as diabetic Whites to be hospitalized.

In 2010, African Americans were 2.2 times as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to die from diabetes.

Dr. Green said one of the best ways African-Americans can understand diabetes is to know the enemy they are dealing with.

WHAT IS DIABETES? 

Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can lead to serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications.

It is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States.

Total health care and related costs for the treatment of diabetes run about $174 billion annually.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DIABETES?

Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile diabetes) results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes – increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue – usually develop over a short period of time. If type 1 diabetes is not diagnosed and treated, a person can lapse into a life-threatening coma.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 5 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes effectively. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 40 but is becoming more prevalent in younger age groups – including children and adolescents. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes – feeling tired or ill, unusual thirst, frequent urination (especially at night), weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, and slow-healing wounds – may develop gradually and may not be as noticeable as in type 1 diabetes. Some people have no symptoms.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults.

“People need to be aware of the importance of taking care of yourself,” Green said. “Too many of us believe we are immortal, especially the youth. We must develop strategies now that will keep us health and that is being at the forefront of prevention.” 

According to Green, with Type 2 diabetes, a person is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they:

have a family history of diabetes

are a member of an ethnic group like African Americans

are overweight or obese

are 45 year old or older

had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes)

have pre-diabetes (glucose levels are elevated but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes)

have high blood pressure

have abnormal cholesterol (lipid) levels

are not getting enough physical activity

have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

have blood vessel problems affecting the heart, brain or legs

have dark, thick and velvety patches of skin around the neck and armpits

HOW MANY AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE DIAGNOSED AND UNDIAGNOSED DIABETES?

About 4.9 million; or 18.7 percent of all non-Hispanic blacks ages twenty and older have diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes.

Green said unchecked it is very dangerous because it is linked to cardiovascular disease – a leading cause of death for people with diabetes – about two out of three people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Also, adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes and increases the risk for stroke to two to four times higher among people with the condition. High blood pressure and smoking also increase the risk for complications.

WHAT CAN AFRICAN AMERICANS DO TO PREVENT HEART DISEASE OR STROKE AND OTHER DIABETES COMPLICATIONS?

Diabetes is a self-managed disease. People with diabetes must take responsibility for their day-to-day care. The chances of having diabetes complications can be reduced or delayed significantly by keeping blood glucose (blood sugar), blood pressure, and cholesterol levels (called the ABCs of Diabetes) in the target range.

The National Diabetes Education Program recommends the following guideline targets for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke for most people with diabetes:

A1C (Blood Glucose) Less than 7 percent ** (check at least twice a year)

Blood Pressure Less than 130/80 mmHg (check every doctor’s visit)

Cholesterol (LDL) Less than 100 mg/dl (check once a year)

**Targets should be individualized – less stringent targets may be advised with severe hypoglycemia, limited life expectancy, other medical conditions, or longstanding diabetes.

Dr. Green suggests that people with diabetes can manage their disease by eating healthy foods, being physically active, taking diabetes medicine as prescribed and testing blood glucose levels.

He also encourages more involvement in community education and support programs that often can help people with diabetes and their families to manage their diabetes.

“It is up to us to do it for ourselves,” Dr. Green said. “We know how we live and what our habits are and it is up to us to make good decisions about the life changes that can save our lives.”

PREVENTION

Early detection and early intervention can make the difference and ward off problems before they occur.

In African Americans, recognizing pre-diabetes conditions is key. Pre-diabetes is a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes.

Risk factors for pre-diabetes are the same as those listed for type 2 diabetes, he said.

One way to prevent diabetes is to be more active, lose weight and control body mass and obesity factors.

NHI suggests losing  5 to 7 percent of their body weight (that is 10 to 14 pounds for a person who weighs 200 pounds) and get physically active for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week as well as selecting healthier food choices and limited the amount of calories and fat in their diet.

“I want African-Americans to think wellness,” Dr. Green said. “You can never be too busy to get screened and take care of your health. Your health is your wealth.”

For more information about Diabetes contact Dr. Green at (713) 636-2590 or go to American Diabetes Association website at www.YourDiabetes.org.

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