Diabetes and Hemoglobin A1C

Article Image A1C

November is diabetes awareness month.

The American Diabetes Association added the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c test) as a recommended diagnostic test for diabetes in 2010. Since then, this test has become the standard test for monitoring glycemic control in diabetic patients.

The HbA1c can tell you how well your diabetes treatment is working overtime by showing your average blood sugar level over the past two-to-three months.

The hemoglobin A1c test measures the percentage of hemoglobin cells that are glycated—have a sugar coating.

Hemoglobin Carries both Oxygen and Glucose to Cells

As hemoglobin cells move through your bloodstream they are nourishing your cells with oxygen and glucose, some (a percentage) of these cells become coated with sugar. 

If there was excessive glucose in your bloodstream, there will be a thicker coating of sugar on the hemoglobin cells that do have a sugar coating.

In a person without diabetes, about 5% of all hemoglobin cells are glycated (coated with sugar). If someone has diabetes and high glucose levels, the percentage of cells that are glycated (coated with sugar) will be higher and therefore A1c percentage is higher.

How does A1c Show a 3-month Average Percentage?

Hemoglobin cells originate in the bone marrow and are released into the blood where they circulate and survive for about 110 to 120 days.  The test measures your average glucose levels over that approximately 3-month lifespan of hemoglobin cells.

The A1c Goal for Diabetics

The goal for most people with diabetes is a level of 7% or less. But A1c target levels change over time and your goal will depend on you and your circumstances and the advice of your healthcare team.

Your doctor will tell you how often you should have an A1c test, but usually twice a year if you are meeting your treatment goals. Monitoring your A1c levels and keeping your A1c levels in the recommended range will lower your risk for developing diabetes complications.