From The National Women's Health Information Center and the Office of Minority Health
Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. People with diabetes have problems converting food to energy. After a meal, food is broken down into a sugar called glucose, which is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body. Cells use the hormone insulin, made in the pancreas, to help them process blood glucose into energy.
Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is usually first diagnosed in children, teenagers, or young adults. Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. People can develop type 2 diabetes at any age even during childhood.
People develop type 2 diabetes because the cells in the muscles, liver, and fat do not use insulin properly. Eventually, the pancreas cannot make enough insulin for the body's needs. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy. Over the years, high blood glucose damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, nerve problems, gum infections, and amputation.
Gestational diabetes is a form of glucose intolerance that is diagnosed in some women during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes occurs more frequently among African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and American Indians. It is also more common among obese women and women with a family history of diabetes. During pregnancy, gestational diabetes requires treatment to normalize maternal blood glucose levels to avoid complications in the infant.
According to 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Diabetes was the fourth leading cause of death among African-American women and was responsible for 7,240 deaths. African-American women had the highest overall prevalence of diabetes of all ethnic groups according to the Office of Minority Health. African Americans have higher rates of at least two of diabetes' most serious complications: amputation (such as having a toe or foot removed), and kidney failure.
- Among American Indian/Alaska Native women, diabetes was also the fourth leading cause of death and claimed 406 lives. American Indian/Alaska Native women have more cases of diabetes than American Indian/Alaska Native men. Pregnant American Indian/Alaska Native women with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have babies born with birth defects. Diabetes plays a part in many of the leading causes of death in American Indian/Alaska Native, including heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, and influenza. People with diabetes are more likely to have problems with their skin, mouth, kidneys, heart, nerves, eyes, and feet. Certain tribes have much higher rates. For example, 50 percent of Pima Indians in Arizona between the ages of 30 and 64 have type 2 diabetes.
- For Asian-American/Pacific Islander women, diabetes was the fourth most common cause of death, responsible for 808 deaths. In 2000, it was the fifth leading cause of death. Diabetes is a growing problem for Asian American/Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the Asian American/Pacific Islander population. There is not a lot of data on the total number of diabetes cases in Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian populations. Some groups within these populations are at increased risk for diabetes. Native Hawaiians, Japanese, and Filipino adults living in Hawaii were about two times more likely to have been diagnosed with diabetes as compared to white residents.
- Diabetes killed 3,369 Hispanic American women and was the fourth leading cause of death. Hispanic/Latina women have more cases of diabetes than Hispanic/Latino men. Hispanic American/Latino women with diabetes are 7.6 times more likely to develop peripheral vascular disease (problems with blood flow in the veins) than non-diabetic women, and three-to-four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. Hispanic/Latina women, especially when they are overweight, have higher rates of gestational diabetes than non-Hispanic white women.