What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.


There are three basic types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – destroys the insulin producing cells in the panaceas.
  • Type 2 diabetes – causes the body to become insensitive to insulin and the cells of the body can no longer use insulin.
  • Gestational diabetes – is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy.


Risk factors are things that increase your chances of getting a disease or condition. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with the number of risk factors such as:

  • Over age 45
  • African American descent (as well as Native Americans, Latinos, and Asians)
  • Parent, brother, or sister with diabetes
  • Diabetes during pregnancy
  • History of having a baby weighing over 9 lbs.
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Overweight or obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides


Many of the symptoms of diabetes go ignored, but if symptoms are detected early, treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes. Some symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased fatigue
  • Excessive thirst
  • Irritability
  • Extreme hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Unusual weight loss


In order to determine whether or not a patient has pre-diabetes or diabetes, health care providers conduct a Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) or an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). Either test can be used to diagnose pre-diabetes or diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends the FPG because it is easier, faster, and less expensive to perform.

With the FPG test, a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl signals pre-diabetes. A person with a fasting blood glucose level of 126 mg/dl or higher has diabetes.

In the OGTT test, a person’s blood glucose level is measured after a fast and two hours after drinking a glucose-rich beverage. If the two-hour blood glucose level is between 140 and 199 mg/dl, the person tested has pre-diabetes. If the two-hour blood glucose level is at 200 mg/dl or higher, the person tested has diabetes.


Think you have diabetes? The NMA Diabetes Education Program recommends seeing your doctor as soon a possible! To help learn more about living with diabetes or caring for someone with diabetes, visit the “Recently Diagnosed” section of the American Diabetes Association website.

Diabetes in the General Public

  • There are 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8% of the population, who have diabetes.
  • While an estimated 17.9 million have been diagnosed with diabetes, unfortunately, 5.7 million people (or nearly one-third) are unaware that they have the disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.
  • Over 57 million people, ages 20 years or older have “pre-diabetes” or high blood sugar levels that are higher than normal, but not yet higher enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Diabetes in African Americans/Blacks

  • 3.7 million people aged 20 years and older (or 14.7% of all African Americans) have diabetes. Of this number, one third are not aware that they have the disease.
  • 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
  • One in four, or 25%, of African Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes.
  • One in four African American women over 55 years of age has diabetes.
  • About 65% of deaths is caused by heart disease and stroke.
  • There is a 27% higher death rate for blacks compared to whites.
  • African Americans experience higher rates of complications, such as kidney disease and amputations, compared to non-Hispanic whites with diabetes.
  • Blindness: Almost 50% as likely to develop diabetic retinopathy as non-Hispanic whites.
  • Kidney Disease: African Americans are 2.6 to 5.6 times as likely to suffer from kidney disease with more than 4,000 new cases of End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) each year.
  • Amputations: African Americans are 2.7 times as likely to suffer from lower-limb amputations; these rates are 1.4 to 2.7 times higher in men than women with diabetes.

Do you have Pre-diabetes?

Are you Pre-diabetic?

Pre-diabetes occurs when a person has glucose levels higher than normal, but not high enough to have diabetes. When glucose levels range from 100 to 125 mg/dL, a person has pre-diabetes. (Note: A person is diagnosed with diabetes when they have at least two fasting glucose levels, on different days, greater than or equal to (>) 126 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL.)

Is there a test for Pre-diabetes?

There are two types of test to check for pre-diabetes: a fasting glucose test and an oral glucose tolerance test.

A person has pre-diabetes if the fasting glucose test is 100 to 125 mg/dL. This is also known as an impaired fasting glucose (IFG).

Pre-diabetes can also be diagnosed by performing a 2-hour oral glucose tolerance test.  Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) occurs when the blood sugar level is higher than normal (140 to 199 mg/dL), but not high enough to be classified as diabetes (>200 mg/dL).

Ask your doctor about pre-diabetes and how it is diagnosed.

What are the risk factors for pre-diabetes?

The risk factors for pre-diabetes and diabetes are the same.

What can I do to prevent diabetes from developing?

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) and the National Medical Association support recommendations that by adopting routine physical activity habits, making healthy food choices, and losing as little as 10 pounds (if overweight or obese), individuals can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. It is important to always discuss your current health status with your doctor.

To learn more about ways to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, call 1-888-693-NDEP (6337) and ask for your FREE copy of, “Your Game Plan to Prevent Diabetes.”

Know Your Diabetes Health Numbers

High blood glucose can cause damage to nerves and blood vessels,
which can lead to long-term complications of diabetes including blindness,
amputation, and kidney failure.
Normal…………………………………60 -100 mg/dL
At risk………………………………….100 – 125 mg/dL
High…………………………………….126 mg/dL and above

Total cholesterol measures the total amount of LDL (“Bad Cholesterol”),
HDL (“Good Cholesterol”), and triglycerides in the blood.
Ideal…………………………………….150 mg/dL
Desirable ……………………………..150 – 199 mg/dL
Moderate risk ……………………….200 – 239 mg/dL
High risk………………………………240 – 274 mg/dL
Extremely high risk……………….above 275 mg/dL

Blood Pressure
Controlling your blood pressure reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke,
and kidney disease.
Desirable……………………………..below 120 / 80 mm/Hg
Normal…………………………………120-129 / 80-84 mm/Hg
High Normal ………………………..130-139 / 85-89 mm/Hg
High…………………………………….above 140 / 90 mm/Hg

Waist Circumference

A high waist circumference is associated with an increased risk for heart
disease and stroke, and related risk factors (type 2 diabetes, high lipids,
and high blood pressure), in individuals with a high body mass index (BMI).
Women………………….over 35 inches indicates increased risk
Men………………………over 40 inches indicates increased risk

For additional information, see the NDEP Diabetes Numbers to Know Card here.

A1C – An Important Test for Diabetics

What is an AIC test?

The A1C blood test assists in determining how a patient has been managing their diabetes over three most recent months.  The results greatly assist the physician in determining the best course of treatment, dietary changes and appropriate medications to prescribe.  An A1C or HbA1c of 6% or less is considered normal.

When glucose/sugar levels are high, a substance called glycated hemoglobin develops in the blood stream.  The A1c test also known as the HbA1c measures the amount of glycated hemoglobin.

How often should I get an A1C test?

The National Medical Association (NMA) recommends that patients get tested at least twice a year and work with their doctors to lower and or maintain the A1c or HbA1c to 7 percent or lower.

What happens if my A1C results are above 7%?

If a patient has a high A1C test result on a continuous basis (7 percent and higher), the risk of developing diabetic complications increase significantly.  Typical diabetic complications include:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Eye Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Dental Disease
  • Nerve Disease
  • Amputations

What to do between Doctor’s visits:

The NMA recommends that patients invest in glucometer so as to track their glucose levels in between doctors visits. This meter will be able to provide you with the glucose level reading within the comfort of your home or at work. Daily self-testing of blood glucose is the number one way for the patient to be fully aware of their status.  According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA) a patient will not be able to adjust their insulin in between doctor visits without self-testing. 

In addition, patients are encouraged to take their medications and or insulin as prescribed by their doctor.

The Complications of Diabetes

The complications that often develop with a diabetic occur when the patient has consistently been unable to manage to their glucose levels.

These complications if untreated can lead to other health concerns that make the patients life uncomfortable or can lead to death.  Common complications include:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke – Both cause 65% of all deaths in people with diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure – About 73% of people with diabetes have high blood pressure.130/80.
  • Eye Disease – Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults 20-74 years of age.
  • Kidney Disease – Diabetes is the leading cause, contributing to 44% of new cases occurring in 2005.
  • Dental Disease – Almost one-third of people with diabetes have severe periodontal disease.
  • Nerve Disease – About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe nerve damage.
  • Amputations – Over 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe nerve damage.

Diabetes Myths

Myth #1  You can catch diabetes from someone else.

No.  Although we don’t know exactly why some people develop diabetes, we know diabetes is not contagious.  It can’t be caught like a cold or flu.  There seems to be some genetic link in diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes.  Lifestyle factors also play a part.

Myth #2  
People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate.

If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be eaten by people with diabetes.  They are no more “off limits” to people with diabetes, than they are to people without diabetes.

Myth #3  Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

No.  Diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors.  However, being overweight does increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  If you have a history of diabetes in your family, eating a healthy meal plan and regular exercise are recommended to manage your weight.

Myth #4  People with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods.

A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is the same as that for everyone – low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit.  Diabetic and “dietetic” versions of sugar-containing foods offer no special benefit. They still raise blood glucose levels, are usually more expensive and can also have a laxative effect if they contain sugar alcohols.

Myth #5  If you have diabetes, you should only eat small amounts of starchy foods, such as bread, potatoes and pasta.

Starchy foods are part of a healthy meal plan.  What is important is the portion size.  Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, peas and corn can be included in your meals and snacks.  The key is portions.  For most people with diabetes, having 3-4 servings of carbohydrate-containing foods is about right.  Whole grain starchy foods are also a good source of fiber, which helps keep your gut healthy.

Myth #6  People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and other illnesses.

No.  You are no more likely to get a cold or another illness if you have diabetes.  However, people with diabetes are advised to get flu shots. This is because any infection interferes with your blood glucose management, putting you at risk of high blood glucose levels and, for those with type 1 diabetes, an increased risk of ketoacidosis.