By Tenille L. Lawson, PharmD, BCPS
Let’s face it. Managing type 2 diabetes is like driving on a long-distance journey: you analyze the foods you eat, you work out until you sweat, you check your blood glucose (sugar)—but still you wonder, are you there yet? If you are one of the 1.5 million Americans diagnosed this year, measuring your A1c could provide you with the powerful numbers you need to reduce the risks of long-term complications. To understand the benefits of A1c testing, we will discuss what it is, how it differs from daily glucose monitoring, and why it is an essential tool to prevent the complications of diabetes.
What is A1c?
Your A1c blood test measures the amount of hemoglobin in your red blood cells that is attached to glucose. As the amount of glucose in your blood goes up, so will your A1c reading. Red blood cells generally live for about 3 months; therefore, A1c testing provides your average glucose over the last 2 to 3 months.
What is the difference between A1c testing and home glucose monitoring?
Unlike testing your blood glucose at home, A1c tells you how well you have maintained your glucose in the past, not your day-to-day levels. Although monitoring at home is essential, multiple complications related to a long history of diabetes are linked to having repeated A1c levels that are above the recommended average of 7%. This is a key reason the American Diabetes Association recommends testing for A1c at least twice yearly to help your doctor map out a long-term plan for your glucose level.
What are the long-term benefits of knowing your A1c?
The American Heart Association warns, “every 80 seconds an adult with diabetes is hospitalized for heart disease.” Studies show risks of congestive heart failure, for example, occur more frequently with each 1% increase in A1c. Research also shows high A1c levels directly correlate to high cholesterol levels, so maintaining low A1c levels decreases risks of stroke and heart attack. In addition to helping you reduce the harm of life-threatening diseases, this one blood test gives you the opportunity to lower your chances of vision loss, kidney failure and nerve damage—consequences that may be delayed or prevented if detected early.
Living with unwanted consequences can be avoided, even if you have diabetes. Knowing your A1c empowers you to improve your numbers—and your life’s journey.
Visit diabetes.org for more about the power of A1c!