What It Is and Why Bother: The A1C Test

The A1C test is a generally accepted way of diagnosing type 1 and 2 diabetes, and it gives doctors an idea how well a patient’s diabetes treatment plan is working.

A1C (or HbA1c) is formed when sugar attaches to hemoglobin, a protein in our red blood cells. When blood sugar levels are high more sugar sticks to the hemoglobin, so A1C levels go up. Lower blood glucose results in less A1C, since less sugar is coating the hemoglobin.

The Test

An A1C test measures our average blood sugar level over the previous two to three months by indicating what percentage of our hemoglobin is coated, or glycated, with sugar. (Three months is the average lifespan of a red blood cell.)

Anything that effects our red blood cell count can alter A1C numbers including blood loss from major surgery, receiving a blood transfusion, having anemia, or other medical conditions. Different ethnic populations may have different levels as well, particularly those with an uncommon hemoglobin variant called hemoglobin A.

To run the A1C test, a patient’s blood is drawn by inserting a needle into an arm vein, or by pricking their finger tip with a lancet. The blood can be taken at any time of day—no fasting required.

It’s best to have the A1C test done just prior to a diabetes checkup, so physician and patient can review the results together. Doctors will suggest when patients should be tested again, and what their recommended A1C target number is.

Your Individualized A1C Test

Many individuals with type 1 or 2 diabetes have an A1C test every three or four months. For adults with type 2 who have been meeting their targets, and have their diabetes is under control, every six months may be adequate. Those with pre-diabetes generally have their A1C checked annually.

A patient’s health care team looks at several factors to decide what A1C targets should be. For most individuals, the target is seven percent or less. People at higher risk of diabetes complications typically have lower target numbers. Those with a history of heart disease, or other chronic illness, may have a target closer to eight percent.

For comparison, non-diabetics’ A1C levels are below 5.7 percent. A result between 5.7 and 6.4 is considered pre-diabetic.

A1C and Monitoring: Dynamic Duo

Even with regular A1C testing, doctors recommend daily glucose monitoring for many type 2 diabetes patients. Though monitoring and A1C each measure blood glucose, they serve different purposes:

  • Daily monitoring reveals what a person’s blood sugar is at the time it's measured. By identifying a day’s highs and lows, the best course of action with regards to food, medication, and activity can be determined.
  • An A1C value does not fluctuate day to day. It provides a two to three-month blood glucose average that suggests to doctors a patient’s risk for diabetes complications, and indicates how well the current diabetes management plan (e.g., diet, medication, activity) is working.

Regular monitoring and A1C tests are a given for those with type 1 diabetes. For individuals whose type 2 diabetes does not need close monitoring, regular A1C testing may be enough to keep tabs on the illness. Others with type 2 benefit from a diabetes picture created by juxtaposing their daily monitoring and A1C numbers.

Source: Diabetes Canada; Mayo Clinic
Photo credit: Jan Tik

Get A Free 7 Day Diabetes Meal Plan

Get a free 7-Day Diabetes Meal Plan from Constance Brown-Riggs who is a Registered Dietitian-Certified Diabetes Educator and who is also a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Just enter in your email below to download your free Diabetes Meal Plan.

By clicking Submit, you agree to send your info to InformationAboutDiabetes.com who may contact you with updates and information and we agree to use it according to our privacy policy.

More Articles

Chamomile tea has long been prized for its calming properties, but few people realize it’s also beneficial for glucose regulation. Traditionally,...

Matcha tea is a rich, creamy, full-bodied beverage with amazing nutritional properties that address several diabetes health concerns. The trace...

One way to ensure our body gets a variety of nutrients is eating nutrient-dense foods, and one of the most nutrient-dense foods on our planet is...

It would be interesting to know how many people with diabetes actually use blood glucose control solutions to regularly check the accuracy of...

A mood is an internal state or condition of feeling. It colors everything else we experience, much like colored sunglasses add a tint to...

More Articles

With such a marked increase in the number of new diabetes cases, more people are wondering if type 1 diabetes...

It would be interesting to know how many people with diabetes actually use blood glucose control solutions to regularly check the accuracy of...

Any sweetener you use to replace table sugar is a sugar substitute. One type of sugar substitute is artificial sweetener. Three other types...

One way to ensure our body gets a variety of nutrients is eating nutrient-dense foods, and one of the most nutrient-dense foods on our planet is...

Diabetes is a health condition that disrupts the body’s normal production of insulin. Currently, more than one million Americans are diagnosed...

The HbA1c blood test, more commonly known as the A1C, is both a very useful and a very cool calculation of your average blood glucose levels over...

Matcha tea is a rich, creamy, full-bodied beverage with amazing nutritional properties that address several diabetes health concerns. The trace...

A mood is an internal state or condition of feeling. It colors everything else we experience, much like colored sunglasses add a tint to...

Oil pulling therapy derives from Ayurveda, a holistic healing system developed thousands of years ago in India. Ayurvedic medicine maintains that...

You may think beer, wine, and liquor would be categorized as food, but in reality, alcohol is a drug. Just like medications, alcohol has powerful...

The different sugar content of fruits can be confusing when you are trying to manage your...

A diabetes meal plan is a guide indicating what types of foods, and how much of them, people should eat at meal and snack time. Following a meal...

Fluid retention, also known as edema, is a problem that affects many diabetics, especially those with type 2 diabetes...

This article was written exclusively for Information About Diabetes by Sarah Havemann, a 21-year-old type 1 diabetic who developed the disease...

There are many causes for both male and female hair loss, including heredity, diet and illness. Could taking prescription insulin be one more...