Incidence of diabetes in Hispanics points to need for screening

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 5, 2000

Diabetes is a disease that can go undetected for years.

Thursday, October 05, 2000

Diabetes is a disease that can go undetected for years. The disease is also more prevalent in certain ethnic populations, meaning that some have an increased risk for diabetes.

Email newsletter signup

In the Tohono O’odham Indian Tribe, formerly known as the Pima and located in the southwest United States, about 80 percent of the population suffer from diabetes.

A little closer to home, studies show that nearly one in 10 Hispanic Americans suffer from either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Roughly 1.2 million Hispanic Americans suffer from diabetes and nearly half of those individuals are not aware they have the disease.

But unawareness of the disease is not limited to any certain ethnic group. Unless individuals with risk factors have the proper screening from a physician, most do not know they have the disease until years after the problem has started, according to Austin Medical Center physician Dr. David Strobel.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 affects about 15 percent of those who have the disease. This type of diabetes results from a lack of insulin. The cells that create insulin have been destroyed.

"Most can be given insulin – about five to six injections a day – but they have to work closely with their doctor," Strobel said.

Type 2 diabetes affects about 85 percent of those who suffer from the disease.

Strobel explained that the pancreas produces the insulin the body needs, but the tissues are non-receptive to it. Therefore, the pancreas begins to produce more insulin.

Glucose at such high levels is toxic to the body, and gradually kills the beta cells.

"Type 1 is usually discovered with an abrupt onset of symptoms," Strobel said. "It shows up with whistles and bells."

Doctors believe the immune system starts attacking anything that chemically looks like a virus.

However, unlike type 1, which is usually identified only when a person becomes very ill, type 2 usually surfaces with much more subtle symptoms, like frequent urination, excessive thirst and "eating like crazy but still losing weight," Strobel said.

While Hispanics have twice the rate of diabetes compared to non-Hispanic whites, people of all ethnic backgrounds can be susceptible to the disease.

"Genetics are concentrated in certain groups, but there are other factors to consider," Strobel said.

Gender, age and family history of disease are factors that no one has control over, but there are risk factors that individuals can control, such as weight and activity level.

"We tell people to eat as much stuff that grows in the ground as they like, and eat as little stuff that walks on the ground," Strobel said. "Obesity is a main central factor."

Inactivity plays a role as well. Healthy diet and exercise regimens can help those genetic histories avoid the disease.

Smoking and high blood pressure are also associated with the disease.

Age is another factor, particularly with type 2.

"Mower County is one of the oldest and fattest counties in the Midwest," Strobel said.

Of course, nothing can be done about age, but Strobel emphasizes the factors that can be changed – diet, exercise and smoking cessation.

Strobel also recommended that those with a family history of the disease talk to a physician to arrange for blood work to detect the disease. It does require the patient to fast prior to the blood test.

Interpreters are available through Mayo Health Systems. However, it’s important to arrange for one when an appointment is made.