Out of the 4.9 million African-Americans who have diabetes, at least a third don’t even know they have it, according to Melody Poindexter, director of programs for the American Diabetes Association.
It’s no secret that within the African-American community type 2 diabetes is the most common form. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is when either your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the cells ignore it. This is so dangerous because your body needs insulin in order to be able to use glucose for energy. Complications stemming from diabetes happen when all that unused glucose builds up in your blood instead of going into cells where it’s needed.
Diabetes got its reputation as a silent killer because a lot of the symptoms are easy to overlook. The best way to find out if you have diabetes is to have a blood sugar test from your doctor. You should make an appointment immediately if you have any of these symptoms:
Excessive thirst and increased urination: If you’re making more trips to the restroom than usual, especially in the middle of the night while you sleep, it could be a symptom of diabetes. This may be because your kidneys have to go into overdrive to rid your body of the extra glucose left in your blood, hence the urge to relieve yourself, sometimes several times during the night.
Rapid weight loss: High blood sugar levels could be the cause of rapid weight loss, around 10 to 20 pounds in the span of two or three months. This is not good because your insulin hormone may not be getting the glucose to the cells in your body, to use as energy. Your body will think its being starved and take protein away from your muscles as a desperate attempt to get the fuel it needs to keep going.
Abnormal hunger: This can be another sign of diabetes, which happens when your blood sugar levels rise and fall drastically. If your blood sugar levels drop too quickly, your body will assume you didn’t feed it and think it will need more glucose for your cells to work.
Slow healing: If you have infections, cuts, or bruises that don't heal as they should this could be because your blood vessels are being ruined by all of the extra glucose that’s going into your veins and arteries. Because of this, your blood will have a hard time helping your body heal itself by going to other parts of the body.
Being tired and irritable: The symptoms above, combined with the extra effort your body has to put forth to make up for the lack of glucose, can cause you to feel fatigued. Being tired, in turn, will make you cranky.
Distorted vision: Blurry vision, seeing things floating in your vision, even flashes of light are linked to high blood sugar levels. When the levels of glucose in your blood are high, it can change the shape of the lens and the eye. These symptoms can be reversed once your sugar levels get closer to normal, but if you go too long without being checked out the results, including blindness, can be permanent.
Tingling sensation or numbness: Any tingling or numbness you feel in your hands and feet, as well as a burning or swelling, can be a sign of nerve damage from diabetes. Like the eye symptoms this can be reversed but if you don’t get your diabetes under control you could have these symptoms for good.
For more on diabetes visit the American Diabetes Association.
(Photo: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed /Landov)