Diabetes is a condition in which the sugar in your blood does not get into your cells. Cells use sugar for energy. The sugar in your blood (called "blood glucose") comes mostly from the food you eat to nourish your body. Your body needs a hormone called insulin to move the sugar from the bloodstream (the body's "transportation" system) into the cells. In diabetes the sugar in the blood stream builds up in the blood and causes "high blood sugar" because it can't get into the cells.
The type of diabetes that most American Indians and Alaska Natives have is a gradual kind of diabetes. It may take months or years before the high sugar in the blood begins to cause symptoms. But if your health care clinic does a sugar (blood glucose) test when you go in for your regular check-up, the high sugar can be found early and treatment can begin before it has caused any symptoms - and most importantly, before it has caused any complications.
We still don't know exactly what causes diabetes, but we have a good idea of who is most likely to develop it. Another way of saying that is "who is most at risk for getting diabetes."
Type 2 Diabetes - A Growing Problem
- Some American Indian tribes have the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world. American Diabetes Association says that there are over 18 million people with diabetes.
- There may be more but many have no symptoms and are undiagnosed.
- Diabetes is increasing among all racial groups in the U.S. due to more people who are overweight and who get little or no physical activity, but the diabetes rates are highest among American Indians/Alaska Natives.
- According the I.H.S. at least 15% of all American Indians/Alaska Natives have diabetes.
- Most of the diabetes is called type 2 diabetes.
- Type 2 diabetes is usually found in adults, but today AI/AN children are being diagnosed more often with type 2 diabetes, even as young as 5 years old. This is largely due to so many AI/AN children being overweight and less active.