If you are talking with someone about diabetes, you may hear the term “A1C.” But what exactly does A1C mean? And why is your A1C important for diabetes management?
An A1C blood value: is one of the most important tests to determine your overall diabetes control.
- is an average of all your glucose results over the past two to three months
- is usually done two to four times each year
- measures the amount of glucose that attaches to hemoglobin, part of the red blood cells (the more glucose that attaches, the higher your A1C)
The A1C goal for most people with diabetes is less than 7%. Your goal may be different, however, so it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider about the target that’s best for you.
The A1C, otherwise known as a glycohemoglobin or hemoglobin A1C lab test, provides a picture of your average glucose control for the past two to three months. The A1C measures the glucose that clings to hemoglobin molecules in your red blood cells. The higher the glucose levels in your blood, the more glucose clings to the hemoglobin, and thus the higher your A1C level will be. Red blood cells are renewed every 120 days. By measuring the percentage of hemoglobin molecules that have glucose attached to them, you and your healthcare provider can get an average of your glucose overtime.
The A1C test is done every three to six months, often during a regular diabetes care visit. It does not require fasting, can be done any time of day, and requires only a small sample of blood taken from a finger stick or drawn from your arm.
Why is the A1C test essential for diabetes management? It gives you an overall picture of your diabetes, rather than a reflection of what is happening in one day, and helps you evaluate your diabetes care and make changes. An A1C test can help you manage your diabetes by:
- verifying self-testing or other blood test results with your healthcare provider
- determining whether your treatment plan is working
- demonstrating how healthy food choices, being physically active and your medication your affect diabetes control An A1C reading of less than 7 percent may be a good goal for many people, but make sure to ask your provider what your A1C target should be.
It’s helpful to remember that the closer you get to your goal, the better you’ll feel today and tomorrow. According to Joslin Diabetes Center’s Clinical Guidelines, we recommend that patients aim for an A1C value of less than 7 percent, as long as achieving this goal does not increase your risk for developing low blood glucose (or blood sugar), otherwise known as hypoglycemia.
The higher your A1C, the greater your risk for developing complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, and neuropathy and circulation problems. To help lower your risk for diabetes complications, keep your glucose levels in your target range by self-monitoring and making adjustments with medicine (insulin, pills, or both), meal planning, and scheduled physical activity.
The best way to determine your target A1C is to speak with your healthcare provider.
If your A1C is above your target, it tells you that your diabetes treatment plan needs a change. This could mean your meal plan needs adjustment, or you need a new medicine or your physical activity may need to be increased. Checking your glucose at home more often and setting up an appointment to discuss the results with your healthcare provider are important steps to take if your A1C is not at target.