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Diabetes


woman smilingBalerma's story

"So many of my female relatives had diabetes when I was growing up that I didn't realize how dangerous it is. My wake-up call came when my mother had a massive heart attack at a young age. I started looking around and realized how many of my female relatives with diabetes died of heart problems. Diabetes is high among American Indians, but my sisters and I just weren't taught about what could happen if you had it, or that it could be prevented.

I was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago — only six months after my mother died from a second massive heart attack. A lot of Comanche women don't talk about their health, but I'm trying to be open with my kids about diabetes and educate them about how to eat better and get more exercise.

I tell them that they're doing these things for me, but more importantly for their own health and their own children's lives as well. I know that if I don't change things in my life, I might not live to see my grandchildren. Every day, I talk myself into doing things for my health, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, eating more fruits and vegetables. These things haven't become habits for me yet, but I'm working on it."

Diabetes is a disease that causes blood sugar levels to be too high. Over time high blood sugar levels can hurt many parts of your body, such as your skin, mouth, kidneys, heart, nerves, eyes, and feet. It can even cause death.

Type 2 diabetes — the most common type of diabetes — is a serious health problem for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Rates vary across regions, with almost 1 in 3 American Indian adults in southern Arizona having diabetes. The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives who have diabetes is growing rapidly, especially among young people. Because native people tend to get diabetes at a younger age, they also have a higher rate of related health problems. Diabetes has been shown to be a very important risk factor for heart disease among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

You can't control some risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as your age, race, or family history. But you can prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes by taking these steps:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) to see if you're at a healthy weight.
  • Eat low-fat, well-balanced meals.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
      or
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
      and
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.

You could have type 2 diabetes and not know it. Type 2 diabetes sometimes has no warning signs. Talk to your doctor about diabetes in your family. Get your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels checked regularly, as advised by your doctor. If you find out you have diabetes, you can take steps to manage the disease and live a full and active life. Making healthy eating and physical activity a regular part of your family life also will help to lower your loved ones' risk of diabetes.

There are other forms of diabetes:

  • Gestational diabetes is too high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. American Indian and Alaska Native women have higher rates than non-Hispanic white women. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. But you are at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin-making cells. It is far less common than type 2 and often starts in childhood. There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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