Diabetes in our Hispanic Community/ La Diabetes En Nuestra Comunidad Hispana

Norma Garcia, Staff Writer

Did you know that about 10.4 Hispanics/Latinos age 20 years or older have been diagnosed with diabetes? And among Hispanics/Latinos, the rates are 8.2 percent for Cubans, 11.0 percent for Mexican-Americans, and 12.6 percent for Puerto Ricans?

The word diabetes has become all too common within the Hispanic community, and it is an urgent health problem. If you would have asked me about eight years ago how much I knew about diabetes, I would not have known much. Diabetes has affected my family directly; in 2002, my father was diagnosed with kidney failure. I still remember the day I had to drive him from his primary care physician appointment to the hospital, as his kidneys were only functioning at 15%.

My father had never maintained a daily exercise regimen or had healthy eating habits. Over time, his body had given up on him, and he was placed on dialysis three times a week. Over the years as my father was on dialysis, I observed how this disease slowly took away my fathers gusto for life. He began losing his vision, became depressed, and grew very tired on the days he did go to dialysis. My father refused to change his drinking and eating habits.

In early 2012, my father decided he no longer wanted to continue going to his weekly dialysis. My father was placed on hospice and lived for 18 days. I have seen first hand what this disease can do to our bodies, our lives, and our loved ones.

As a community we must educate ourselves and our families about this debilitating disease. If left untreated or left uncontrolled it can lead to complications and premature death.

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.

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 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 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 develop gradually and may not be as noticeable as in type 1 diabetes. Some people have no symptoms.

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 Hispanics/Latinos
  • Are overweight or obese
  • Are 45 year old or older
  • Have had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes)
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have abnormal cholesterol (lipid) levels
  • Are not going 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 the skin around the neck and armpits (this is called acanthosis nigricans)

We must take action by walking and exercising to control our weight, and begin establishing healthier eating habits. There are several organizations that organize health fairs throughout the year to educate the public.  Local hospitals also offer diabetes educational services, with their main emphasis on recipes to prevent diabetes and maintain a healthy diet.

In my current job as a community relations coordinator for A*MED Home Health & Hospice, I see many patients with diabetes.  I see them in nursing homes, hospitals and physician offices, and unfortunately, diabetes is also very common among children.   Diabetes is only the beginning, which can also lead into other complications, such as cardiovascular disease. 

What can we do to prevent diabetes, heart disease and other complications? The basics to treat and manage this disease include monitoring glucose levels, diet, exercise, insulin, and oral medication. We must be proactive and take responsibility for our own health.

Norma Garcia is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Norma was born and raised in San Antonio, TX, where she has served as a real estate agent for over 14 years.  She has an impressive record of volunteering and giving back to her community, beginning at the age of 18 years old when she would go to Laredo, MX to help do missionary work at a small Christian church. She is the author of “My Dear Jasmine: From Tragedy to Triumph” published in 2008. 

National Diabetes Education Program