Diabetic management involves checking your blood sugar levels at different times of the day. Self-monitoring helps people with diabetes know how much food, physical activity and diabetes medication to take, which could affect their blood sugar level. There is another blood test that can tell your average blood sugar level for the past 2 to 3 months to get a complete picture of blood sugar control. This test is called an A1c (hemoglobin A1c), which measures literally how much sugar is stuck to your hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein within your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It also carries sugar, and once the sugar is stuck there on the hemoglobin, it remains for the life of the red blood cells, for about 3 or 4 months. The higher the level of blood sugar, the more sugar attaches to the red blood cell. Results of the A1c test will be elevated in this case.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends the A1c test be performed at least two times a year for glucose control. Two studies were performed by the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) and the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) that showed the importance of the hemoglobin A1c test. These studies showed that lowering the hemoglobin A1c number can prevent or delay diseases in people with diabetes such as eye, kidney and nerve problems. The a1c test is frequently ordered to newly diagnosed diabetics to obtain better control of their blood glucose levels before complications arise.
A1c is a lab test that you do not have to be fasting to have performed. It can be performed by a laboratory or in your physician office. Results are in percentages with a goal of less than 7 percent for diabetics. Levels higher than 7 percent are a warning sign that your diabetes is out of control and you are at risk for complications. When your A1c level is close to normal (4-6%), you know you are doing what is expected to stay healthy. Maintaining self-monitoring of blood glucose, eating correctly, physical exercise and decreasing stress all help to manage your blood sugar. People who take an active role in their blood sugar management have a better and healthier life.
SOURCES: American Diabetes Association (ADA), UK Prospective Diabetes Study, The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial