Diabetes and African Caribbean heritage: frequently asked questions

We receive a large number of questions from people of African and Caribbean origin or heritage living with diabetes. Here are some of the most common questions related to diabetes, African and African Caribbean heritage.

This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Joan St Joan, General Practitioner with a Special Interest in Diabetes. 

Can Black people get Type 1 diabetes?

As with everyone throughout the world, Black people can get Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes as well as other forms of diabetes. The percentage of Black people who live with Type 1 diabetes within a group can sometimes be lower than other ethnicities, and this may be why this idea arose.

For example, in some communities, people living with Type 1 diabetes may represent 10% of the total percentage of people living with diabetes. But people of Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds living with Type 1 diabetes will usually represent around 5% of the total number of people living with diabetes within the community of African and African-Caribbean heritage.

Is diabetes is 100% hereditary? Can I be the first in my family to have diabetes?

Diabetes is not 100% hereditary. However it is true that with certain forms of diabetes there is a strong genetic element. For most types of diabetes, especially Type 2 Diabetes, the genetic element is only one of many aspects

We know that your family history can affect your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes and is increased if you have a member of your family living with diabetes, but you can also still be the first person in your family to develop the condition. 

Compared with other ethnicities, are Black people more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes vs Type 1 diabetes?

Based on present existing data across all ethnicities, there is a higher prevalence of Type 2 diabetes (90-95%%) as compared to Type 1 diabetes (5-10%), however the evidence does suggest those of Black ethnic background present more with Type 2 diabetes and its subtypes such as ketosis- prone Type 2 diabetes.

My HbA1c readings are not counted due to me having sickle cell trait. What should I do?

Certain types of sickle cell trait, and some conditions affecting the haemoglobin in your blood called haemoglobinopathies, can affect your red blood cells which in turn affects the usual HbA1c blood test used to monitor your diabetes.

Your clinician can in these circumstances use a test called a fructosamine blood test and/or monitor your fingerprick (capillary) test results over a period of time. There are many other innovative ways to monitor your diabetes, so it would we worthwhile to speak to your diabetes team for more support.

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