Why A1c testing is important for someone with diabetes

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The A-1-what?

People living with diabetes have often heard about an “A1c test.” 

A1c isn’t an acronym or abbreviation—it’s the chemical name for a blood protein linked to sugar, usually glucose. That makes A1c a measure of blood-sugar levels, which are very important in diagnosing or monitoring diabetes.1

The difference between A1c and glucose testing

The A1c test shows a person’s average blood-sugar level for the past 2–3 months.2 It’s different from glucose monitoring that someone with diabetes might do at home on a daily basis. 

At-home glucose testing with a glucose meter (or glucometer) shows blood-sugar levels in real time. However, those levels often go up and down during the day, depending on things like foods eaten and level of activity.3

By providing an average of blood-sugar levels for several months, an A1c test helps patients and doctors see larger blood-sugar trends over a longer period of time. That makes the test very useful for diagnosing someone with diabetes or prediabetes and helps manage medication and treatment of people living with diabetes.2

An A1c test may also be referred to as an HbA1c test, a glycated (or glycosylated) hemoglobin test or a hemoglobin A1c test, but they’re all the same thing.2

Getting an A1c test and understanding its results

An A1c test requires either a blood draw or a finger prick and is often done at a doctor’s office or clinic.2 An A1c test can sometimes be done at home, but the blood sample must still be mailed to a testing center to get the results. 

A healthy range for A1c results can vary from person to person—a doctor or healthcare professional should help you understand what A1c range is right for you. 

The following guidelines from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases can help you understand what A1c results may mean:4

  • Below 5.7%—usually normal for a nondiabetic person
  • Between 5.7% and 6.4%—possible sign of prediabetes
  • Above 6.5%—may indicate diabetes
  • Above 8%—could mean the diabetes is not well-controlled

Sometimes you can get a false result. Things like iron deficiency anemia can give a false high A1c result, or a recent blood transfusion can create a false low result.

How often should A1c be tested?

The A1c test measures average blood sugar levels over several months, so the test isn’t normally done weekly or even monthly. 

If you are concerned about managing diabetes, you should talk to your doctor about how often to test. According to the Mayo Clinic, A1c testing should be done:2

  • Once every 3 years for people who do not have diabetes but are over 45 years old, overweight or have other risk factors for diabetes
  • Once a year for people diagnosed with prediabetes
  • Twice a year for people who have type 2 diabetes but do not take insulin and usually keep their blood sugar under control
  • 4 times a year for people with type 2 diabetes who take insulin and struggle to keep their blood sugar under control
  • 4 times a year for people with type 1 diabetes
  • Sometimes more than 4 times a year if medication or treatment plans are changing

Always talk to a doctor

If you’re living with diabetes, you should always talk with your doctor to understand: 

  • How often you should have an A1c test
  • Your ideal A1c range
  • Lifestyle, diet and exercise options to help manage blood sugar levels

Talk to your doctor about A1c testing

Getting an A1c test and understanding its results

In-home A1c tests can be purchased at a local pharmacy or often through a health-insurance provider like Humana. Some Humana Medicare plans may cover the cost of in-home A1c tests. Humana members can sign in to MyHumana to check screenings on their MyHealth page. At MyHealth, members can also see if they’re eligible for an in-home test kit.

Sources:

  1. “Glycated Hemoglobin,” Wikipedia, last accessed October 16, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycated_hemoglobin.
  2. “A1C Test,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed October 16, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/a1c-test/about/pac-20384643.
  3. “Blood Sugar Testing: Why, When and How,” Mayo Clinic, last accessed October 16, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/blood-sugar/art-20046628.
  4. “The A1C Test & Diabetes,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center, last accessed October 16, 2019, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diagnostic-tests/a1c-test?dkrd=/health-information/diabetes/overview/tests-diagnosis/a1c-test.

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