Understanding A1c Tests
An A1c test helps doctors see the amount of glucose in a person’s blood (blood sugar) over a three-month period. When glucose builds up in your blood, it binds to a protein called hemoglobin—this molecule is responsible for the red color of your blood and carrying oxygen throughout your body.
A1c tests measure what percentage of hemoglobin is coated by glucose. The higher your percentage, the higher your risk of diabetes and diabetes complications.
Doctors use A1c tests to diagnose type 1 and type 2 diabetes and monitor patients who are already diagnosed with diabetes. If you have diabetes, you should get an A1c test regularly to evaluate how well you are managing your blood sugar.
What is a Healthy A1c Level?
The normal A1c range for a non-diabetic person of average health is below 5.7 percent, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). If your levels are between 5.7 to 6.4 percent, you may be prediabetic. A level of 6.5 percent or higher indicates diabetes.
Patients with diabetes should aim for an A1c level below 7 percent. It may seem like a lofty goal, especially if your levels are high, but it’s important to remember that lowering your A1c levels reduces your risk of developing diabetes complications like kidney and nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, etc.
How Often Should I Get Tested?
If you are at risk for diabetes or prediabetes and have not been diagnosed, an A1c test can help you determine whether you have the condition or are likely to develop diabetes. Because prediabetes usually does not present any signs or symptoms, it’s important to identify your risk factors and notify your doctor.
How often you get tested depends on your diagnosis and your treatment plan. Here are some general recommendations:
- • If you are prediabetic, you should get tested annually to monitor your risk of progressing to diabetes.
- • Patients with type 2 diabetes who do not use insulin and whose A1c levels are consistently in the target range may only need the test twice a year.
- • If you have type 1 diabetes, you should be tested three to four times per year.
- • Patients with type 2 diabetes who use insulin for diabetes management or have difficulty keeping their blood sugar in their target range should be tested four times a year.
Tips to Reduce Your A1c Levels
Reducing your A1c levels can reduce your likelihood of developing diabetes if you are prediabetic or are at risk, but it can also improve the quality of life of those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes and prevent further complications. Tips to lower your levels include:
Increasing your activity level can have a positive effect on your A1c levels. Aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Exercise can be overwhelming for someone who is not used to being active—starting with something as simple as taking your dog for a walk can help ease you into an exercise routine. Discuss your routine with your doctor before increasing your activity level.
2: Follow your treatment plan
Successful management of chronic conditions is all about making a plan and sticking to it. Work with your doctor to set goals for your health and create a plan that will work for you. It you have a hard time following your plan, you may want to write it down or post your goals in a place where you will see them frequently. The NIDDK offers a diabetes planning worksheet to help you get started.
3: Eat a diabetes-friendly diet
Some eating habits can worsen symptoms of diabetes. Create a diet plan that emphasizes healthy carbs—like whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables—and foods high in fiber. Be sure to watch your portion sizes to prevent overeating, and beware of sugary drinks, processed foods, and foods high in cholesterol and sodium. Try using an online tool to document your goals, recipes and shopping lists, and track your progress over time.
4: Take medications as directed
Medications for diabetes can assist you in your efforts to lower your A1c levels, and you should take them as directed in order to get the most benefit out of them. Because your needs may change over time, it’s good to visit your doctor if you notice your levels changing. A simple schedule change or tweak in dosage may be all you need to get back on track.
5: Get organized
Being organized can help you feel less overwhelmed as you try to manage your diabetes and lower your A1c levels. Practice writing down your schedule for the week on Sundays; include your doctors appointments, medication reminders, exercise plan, to do lists and anything else that will help you get into a routine and focus on your health. You may want to organize all of your supplies in one place or keep glucose tablets in your purse or car to help you prepare for unexpected lows.
6: Take advantage of tech
There are lots of apps out there to help patients manage their diabetes. What may work for one person may not work for another—try out a few to find a good fit. You may want to talk to your doctor about getting a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help you track your progress. These tiny sensors, which are inserted under the skin, are a great way to see your glucose levels in real time—some can even send your results to your tablet or smartphone.
7: Take a deep breath
Stress hormones can cause blood sugar levels to spike. Whether your stress is mental, emotional or physical, finding ways to reduce your stress can help you better control your A1c levels. Practicing mindfulness or breathing exercises, for example, can be a great way to manage your stress and A1c levels.
Complications of diabetes can dramatically increase your out-of-pocket medical costs. Regularly consult your doctor about your condition and which management methods are best for you.
Our Utah County Endocrinologist helps diagnose and treat endocrine system disorders—including complex cases. As trained specialists, our providers know the latest treatments and technologies to treat a variety of disorders.
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