Latino patients sometimes fight an uphill battle against diabetes

Latino patients sometimes fight an uphill battle against diabetes

Hispanic and Latino Americans are a diverse group. But they are more likely to have type 2 diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

According to a 2019 CDC study, the adjusted percentage of Hispanic adults living with diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes was approximately 22%, a few points higher than non-Hispanic Asians and blacks and a significant 10% higher than non-Hispanic whites.

Hispanic and Latino adults are more likely to develop diabetes and do so earlier in life. And when they do, complications hit harder, including higher rates of kidney failure caused by diabetes as well as diabetes-related vision loss and blindness.

Dr. Carlos Mella-Picel, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, says his practice sees approximately 80% Latino or Hispanic patients and diabetes is a common medical issue for many he treats.

While Hispanics and Latinos generally have a genetic pre-disposition to develop type 2 diabetes, education and cultural relationships to food and general wellness are at the center of the issue.

“Diabetes and all its complications can be prevented or addressed early by having an active lifestyle, balanced diet and an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider,” he says. “Despite the fact that type 2 diabetes is extremely prevalent in the Hispanic and Latino communities, we find that very often the level of awareness is very minimal and not proportional to the risk that our patients have to develop it.”

He says many activities and celebrations are centered on big meals as a symbol of hospitality and communion, on top of a base diet that can consist of many high calorie dishes. In addition, Dr. Mella-Picel says low-income Hispanic and Latino people might not be able to be selective when it comes to their diet and habits, or even have appropriate access to health care.

“We see a very hard-working community that dedicates most of it’s time to their jobs and duties at home not prioritizing their own health and physical activity in the interest of providing for their families,” he says. “That’s a very ingrained mentality, which requires extensive education to help patients understand that only taking care of their health, they will be able to continue working and fulfilling the needs of their families.”

Early signs of diabetes can include:

  • Frequent urination throughout the day, but sometimes more at night.
  • Feeling constantly thirsty and drinking large amounts of water.
  • Losing weight without trying or feeling fatigued for no apparent reason.

In more advanced cases, side effects can also include:

  • Blurry vision and unusual sensations in the feet and hands like numbness.
  • Minor injuries on the skin take longer to heal and are more prone to infection.
  • Frequent urinary tract and yeast infections.

While he sees younger patients become more involved and aware of the importance of caring for their medical needs, there is a lot of room for improvement. Dr. Mella-Picel says patients with questions on how to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes or generally improve their health should make an appointment with a doctor.

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About the Author

Nathan Lurz
Nathan Lurz

Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.