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Minority Women's Health

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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 one of the biggest health challenges facing African-Americans, and especially African-American women. One in 4 African-American women older than 55 has diabetes. African-Americans also have high rates of at least two of diabetes' most serious complications: amputation (such as having a toe or foot removed) and kidney failure.

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 are 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
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • 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 when blood sugar levels are too high during pregnancy. African-American women have higher rates than non-Hispanic white women. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. But having gestational diabetes puts 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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