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What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body either stops making insulin (type 1 diabetes) or does not make enough insulin to convert food into energy (type 2 diabetes). The main problem in diabetes is that the body can’t properly use and store glucose (or sugar), which is the body’s main source of energy.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1. There are other types of diabetes, such as gestational diabetes, which is diagnosed during pregnancy (you will find more information about gestational diabetes in the coming weeks).

If not treated, the amount of glucose in the blood can become too high, which can lead to health problems. Diabetes is a lifelong disease that cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.

Are Latinos at a Higher Risk to Develop Diabetes?

Yes, unfortunately Latinos have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The statistics say that one of every two Latino children born today will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime, so as a community we should do something to decrease our risk. We need to raise awareness about diabetes in the Latino community so everyone gets activated!

The first step in prevention is to know your risk factors. People who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, are not physically active or who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol are at risk. There are some risk factors that you can’t change, such as your family history. However, losing even a small amount of weight, making better food choices, and being more physically active can help you lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

At Joslin Diabetes Center we combine the highest quality diabetes care and education with culturally and linguistically appropriate, individualized treatment plans that consider health beliefs, family involvement, food preferences, and social and financial issues. For more information call our Latino line at 617-309-2490.

How Do Insulin and Glucose Work Together?

When we eat, foods are broken down into a substance called glucose (also known as sugar). Glucose is what the body needs for energy. Every cell in the body needs glucose, but glucose can only enter a cell when insulin is present. Insulin acts like a key to open up the cell and allow glucose in. People who do not have diabetes have plenty of insulin available to help move the glucose from the bloodstream into the cell.

What Happens When You Have Uncontrolled Diabetes?

Uncontrolled diabetes means that there is too much glucose (or sugar) in the blood, which over time can cause harm to different parts of the body. We call these problems complications. Chronic complications are issues that are dealt with over a longer period of time. They include vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, sexual dysfunction and problems with nerves and blood vessels that can cause the loss of a leg or foot.

The good news is that you can help your body control blood glucose levels by eating healthily, increasing your physical activity level and taking diabetes medicines. Today people with diabetes are living longer and healthier lives thanks to many new treatments. The key to living well with diabetes is keeping it under control.

How can someone know whether diabetes is under control?

The A1C test shows how well your diabetes has been controlled during the last three months. The goal for most people with diabetes is to have an A1C of less than 7%.

Discuss your personal goal for the A1C test with your primary care doctor or diabetes specialist.

Research has shown that keeping your A1C level under 7% will greatly reduce your risk for developing complications from diabetes, such as eye, kidney, nerve, or heart problems. Your healthcare team will help, but remember that you are the person making decisions about your diabetes on a daily basis. Keep track of your A1C test. For people whose diabetes is under control, this test should be done 2–4 times a year. For people with uncontrolled diabetes, the A1C test should be done at least once every 3 months.

IMPORTANT: Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare providers about anything that you don’t understand and let them know if you have any concerns.

The content below was developed by Andreina Millan-Ferro from Joslin’s Latino Initiative. Please contact her by email (andreina.millanferro@joslin.harvard.edu) if you have questions or need any additional information.