My 8-year-old son entered a diabetic coma due to ignorance: The impact of diabetes on the Latino community in the United States

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Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people around the world, and the Latino community in the United States is no exception. Understanding the different types, symptoms of diabetes, and its risk factors, along with their impact on the Hispanic population, is crucial to addressing this public health challenge.

The Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, conducted research finding that Hispanic people born in the US had higher levels of metabolites associated with 22% higher risk of developing diabetes

«My children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. My oldest son became very ill, with symptoms of vomiting, rapid weight loss and he could not control his urge to go to the bathroom. He turned out to be in a diabetic coma when I took him to the hospital. I spent about three weeks next to him, since in that state insulin cannot be administered. It was a traumatic and disconcerting experience, but I learned a lot during that time. With my second child it was different, we detected it in time,» shared Guadalupe.

Photo of Guadalupe Miranda and her two sons Leonardo and Ricardo Reyes.

What distinguishes type 1 diabetes from type 2, and what are the associated risk factors in the Latino community?

Before type 2 diabetes, many people experience prediabetes, where blood sugar levels are elevated but not enough for a diabetes diagnosis. This offers an opportunity for prevention through lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise.

There are mainly two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Each one has its own characteristics and causes. It all depends on the diabetes symptoms that are present. 

Type 1 Diabetes: It is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells of the pancreas, responsible for producing insulin. It requires daily administration of insulin to control blood sugar levels and usually manifests itself in childhood or early adolescence.

Type 2 Diabetes: It represents 90% of cases and is characterized by insulin resistance or insufficient insulin production. It is closely linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet. Older age, family history, and certain ethnic groups, such as Latinos, are at greater risk.

Initially, Guadalupe and her family faced a number of emotional and logistical challenges while adjusting to life with diabetes. «At first it was very complicated, both emotionally and mentally. Learning to deal with insurance, pharmacies, and doctors was a challenge. But over time, I have learned to adapt and find support in my work and in my community,” she said.

What are the symptoms of diabetes and when should you consult a doctor?

According to GoodRX Health if you have concerns about diabetes symptoms, it is important to talk to a health and care professional. They can guide you on the need for specific tests to detect the disease.

Common signs of diabetes include:

  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Dry mouth
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Vision problems

Based on your symptoms, age, and risk factors, a health professional can suggest getting tested for diabetes. In addition, they will provide you with advice on the results of these tests and will develop an appropriate action plan to follow.

In the Latino community, access to information and resources about diabetes symptoms is often limited. Guadalupe noted: “In our Latino community, we often lack information about available resources and how to access them. This can make it difficult to manage diabetes and access appropriate medical care

What resources exist for people with diabetes?

American Diabetes Association (ADA): The ADA offers a wide range of resources in Spanish, including information on diabetes management, diet and exercise tips, as well as community support programs. You can find more information on their website: www.diabetes.org/espanol

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK): The NIDDK is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and provides Spanish-language resources on diabetes, including publications, educational materials, and links to research programs. Visit their website at: www.niddk.nih.gov/espanol/salud-diabetes

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC has helpful information on diabetes prevention and management in Spanish. You can find resources, statistics and health tips on their website: www.cdc.gov/diabetes/espanol

For Guadalupe, awareness and access to health care are essential to improve the situation of people with diabetes in the Latino community. «I think it is important to have more frequent medical exams and be more attentive to the warning signs of diabetes. Additionally, we need more information and resources available in Spanish so that everyone can easily access them,» she stressed.

How can I find free clinics and resources for people with diabetes?

GoodRx: is a free mobile app and website that helps Americans save millions of dollars each month by finding the lowest prescription drug prices in their neighborhood. Visit goodrx.com to save up to 80% on virtually all FDA-approved medications, both brand-name and generic.

NAFC: National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics: You can visit this page of the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics by clicking here, add your zip code and you will find free clinics near your location.

Medicaid and Medicare: These are federal health insurance programs that offer coverage for diabetes-related medications and services to eligible people. Medicaid is for people with low incomes, while Medicare is for people over 65 and some people with disabilities. You can check eligibility and enroll at www.medicaid.gov and www.medicare.gov.

Guadalupe sends a message of support to those living with diabetes: »You are not alone. There are resources and organizations available in Spanish. It is essential to educate yourself and take steps to manage your health, as diabetes can be serious if not treated properly. “Language should not be a barrier to accessing medical care and necessary information.”

Her story highlights the challenges and strength of Latino families facing diabetes in the US, offering a deep understanding of the impact on the community and opportunities to address this chronic disease.

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Isabel Cristancho es Community Coordinator en Noticias para Inmigrantes. Estudió Comunicación Social y Periodismo en la Universidad Externado de Colombia, y cuenta con experiencia en redacción, manejo y creación de contenido para medios digitales. También es Holistic Health Coach de IIN, y su pasión es ayudar a las personas a mejorar su calidad de vida, en este caso, su principal función es servir a la comunidad latina brindando información valiosa.