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Knowing Your A1C—Another Tool for Blood Sugar Control

  • What’s your A1C level?
  • What’s a healthy A1C level?
  • When did you last have your A1C checked?
  • How often should you have it checked?
  • What information does the A1C test give you about your diabetes control?

A recent analysis by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists indicates that most people with diabetes don’t know much about their A1C at all. Here’s an overview on what the A1C numbers mean, and how you can use the test results to help manage your diabetes.

Why is the A1C important—and what is it, anyway?
The A1C test (pronounced A-one-C), which used to be known as hemoglobin A-1-C, is a measurement of your average blood sugar over the last two to three months. Hemoglobin is a substance inside your red blood cells. It carries oxygen from your lungs to all the cells of your body. 

Hemoglobin links with sugar. When you have extra sugar in your blood, that sugar links up with molecules of hemoglobin. The more sugar, the higher the hemoglobin count, and the higher the percentage of A1C in your blood. 

Red blood cells live for about 120 days. They hold a record of your blood sugar levels for that period of time. 

A bigger picture than daily testing provides
It’s extremely important to test your blood sugar as often as you need to every day. That lets you know where you are now, each day, and helps you control your sugar throughout the day. 

But your A1C count serves a different purpose. It gives you an overview of how well your sugar is controlled in general. Just as one bad day at work doesn’t mean you’ve had a whole bad month at work, one difficult day controlling your sugar doesn’t tell your whole story either. You need the A1C for that. 

What should your A1C number be?
People who don’t have diabetes usually have an A1C number of 5. If you have diabetes, the goal is generally to keep your number at about 7 or lower. The actual goal number for you is something to determine with your health care team though. 

If your number is too high, talk with your healthcare team about the types of changes you can make that will help bring that number down. 

How often should you have your A1C checked?
One rule of thumb is that you should have your A1C checked about twice a year, but that too, is something you should talk about with your doctor. If your treatment plan has changed or if your sugar level stays too high, you’ll probably need to have your A1C tested more frequently. 

If for some reason your doctor doesn’t bring up the A1C test during your routine visits, be sure to ask about it anyway. 

The lower the number, the greater the chances of slowing down complications
When it gets down to it, the numbers are important, but only because they serve as tools that help you control your diabetes. By keeping your blood sugar under control, you can decrease your chances of developing the complications that come with diabetes, such as amputations, kidney disease, heart disease and vision loss. Every decrease in the A1C number helps, and that’s why your numbers are important. 

Remember that—every decrease helps. 

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; The American Diabetes Association; The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders, “If you Have Diabetes, Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers.
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