The facts about A1C

Every year, more than 1.5 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed. If you’ve recently been diagnosed — or told you have prediabetes — you may have heard the phrase “A1C test.” But what exactly is that?

Well, first things first, let’s talk through how diabetes is usually diagnosed in the first place. At some point, you’ve probably had a blood glucose test as part of your regular checkup. This basic test measures the amount of glucose (often called blood sugar) present in your blood at the time of the test.

This test is typically performed after you’ve been fasting for a length of time to get an accurate picture of your normal blood sugar level.

A blood sugar level lower than 100 mg/dL is considered normal, between 100 and 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetic, and a blood sugar reading higher than 126 mg/dL is considered diabetic.

But what exactly does this have to do with A1C? A lot, actually. Let’s take a look at the A1C test and how it works.

Making sense of the A1C test

The A1C test is another way of testing a person’s blood sugar. It’s often used if prediabetes or diabetes is suspected or has been diagnosed.

This blood test provides more in-depth information than the standard blood glucose test. Instead of revealing a person’s blood glucose level at the time of the test, the A1C test actually reveals information about someone’s blood sugar over the previous three months.

This type of test also works differently than a fasting blood glucose test. The A1C test, which is also called the hemoglobin A1C test, is based on how glucose attaches to hemoglobin in the body. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells, which typically live for about three months. That’s why the A1C test reflects blood sugar levels over a three-month period.

What’s this A1C result mean?

A person’s A1C is measured as a percentage, and the higher the percentage, the higher a person’s blood sugar levels have been.

An A1C below 5.7 percent is considered normal, while an A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is considered prediabetic and an A1C 6.5 percent or higher is considered diabetic.

Where a person falls on the scale matters — even within a certain category. Take the prediabetic readings, for example. The higher the A1C within that category, the higher the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

What’s the advantage of A1C testing?

In the past, experts only recommended standard blood glucose testing for the diagnosis of prediabetes and diabetes. But in 2009, an international committee determined that the A1C test could be beneficial for diagnosis and offers several benefits.

The A1C hemoglobin test doesn’t require fasting — and blood can be taken at any time of day. This makes the test more convenient for many people, which hopefully will make people more likely to be screened for diabetes.

Because this type of test measures glucose over a period of time, it’s less likely to be impacted by what a person has recently eaten, potentially giving a more accurate representation of blood sugar levels.

If you’re diagnosed with prediabetes…

If your A1C test identifies you as falling with the prediabetic range, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will ever be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. But it should be treated as a wakeup call — a “check engine” light of sorts.

If you have prediabetes, it is possible to make lifestyle changes that will lower your blood glucose levels to a normal range.

Take steps toward healthier living by exercising for at least 150 minutes each week (roughly 22 minutes a day), not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption. Fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and fatty fish.

Your doctor can make recommendations for healthy lifestyle habits specific to you, which may include adding certain foods or nutrients into your diet. Part of his or her recommendation will likely be additional blood glucose or A1C tests to measure your progress.

Experiencing symptoms of diabetes, like increased thirst, frequent urination or blurred vision? Talk with your doctor about testing your blood sugar. Need a doctor? Find one here.