The A1C test, known as the hemoglobin A1C test, is one of the most powerful tools available to those who want to keep their blood sugar under control and effectively manage their diabetes.
The A1C test result was reported as a percentage, where the higher the percentage, the higher your blood glucose levels have been. For people with diabetes, it’s recommended that you aim to keep your A1C level below 5.7 percent or even lower depending on your doctor’s advice and your specific health needs.
What does Hemoglobin Have to Do With It?
Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells that binds to glucose, or blood sugar. The more hemoglobin you have, and thus more hemoglobin with attached glucose, means your body requires additional insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
So when hemoglobin levels go up—meaning your RBCs are saturated with glucose—you need more insulin to help bring down high blood sugar levels. With all of that extra insulin floating around, it can become difficult for it to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels.
This is why high A1C numbers aren’t great news—they indicate higher overall blood sugar levels over time.
What Does A1C Mean?
The hemoglobin in your blood is what transports oxygen to your body’s cells. When glucose attaches to hemoglobin, it changes its shape, making it unable to carry oxygen throughout your body. An A1C test measures how much glucose has attached to hemoglobin over a period of time.
The higher the percentage, the more hemoglobin with attached glucose is in your blood. While taking an A1C test won’t directly impact your day-to-day health, higher levels may lead to serious complications down the road, including diabetes complications and even death.
However, you can prevent these negative outcomes if you receive proper treatment for high blood sugar now.
What Is the Normal Range?
Normal blood sugar levels depend on a lot of factors: your age, weight, physical activity level, and whether you take medications or have other health conditions.
On average, most people with diabetes should strive for an A1C level below 7 percent. If you have diabetes, know that you can still maintain healthy blood sugar levels even if your number is higher than 5.7 percent – but it’s certainly a good goal to aim for.
In general, adults with type 2 diabetes should aim for an A1C level of less than 7 percent while those with type 1 should aim for less than 6 percent (though some will also say that anything under 8 percent is optimal).
Since both types tend to fluctuate depending on medication usage, education/support groups, dietary changes/weight loss, etc., these numbers are simply guidelines.
However, many researchers believe that because individuals with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop complications at lower levels than those who have type 2—and because these complications become more serious as your A1C gets higher—it makes sense to keep your blood glucose as close to normal as possible without going too low so as not risk hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) episodes.
Why Test For It?
The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes test their blood glucose levels at least two times a day. This enables them to manage their condition and take action before complications develop.
Some people may only check their blood sugar in the morning and in the evening, while others may check throughout each day. If you’re concerned about developing diabetes or want to determine if your blood sugar is under control, you might want to see what’s normal for you through an A1C test.
According to the American Diabetes Association, a normal range of glucose values for non-diabetics is between 70 and 99 mg/dL. For those with diabetes, however, it’s crucial to know what your target numbers are and if you need help reaching them. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes aim for an A1C level below 7 percent and a blood glucose level between 80 and 130 mg/dL before meals and less than 180 mg/dL after meals.
The ADA also recommends frequent blood sugar testing is important in managing diabetes. People who test their blood sugars often may find it helpful to do so several times per day at first or as directed by their physician.
Lab Me allows you to easily test and track your A1C levels from home.
How Much Does It Affect Blood Sugar Levels?
The blood sugar levels are more directly influenced by what you eat. When you eat, your body responds to food as energy.
When your body is ready for energy, it produces a hormone called insulin that pulls glucose from your bloodstream into your cells to be used as fuel. The longer you have diabetes, or if you have type 2 diabetes and are overweight, the less sensitive your body is to insulin and also produces less of it.
With lower levels of insulin in your system, less glucose gets pulled out of your bloodstream, which means higher blood sugar levels. An increase in average blood sugar level can cause damage to organs like the heart and kidneys over time.