What is HbA1C? If you are a newly diagnosed diabetic, you may wonder what those letters stand for? Technically, HbA1C is a form of hemoglobin that labs use to get an average for blood glucose levels over time.

High levels of blood glucose are a significant sign of diabetes. To check for diabetes, doctors recommend patients take a simple blood test for glucose. This test will show a one-time glucose level reading. If the doctor sees a high glucose reading at that point, the next step is to see what the glucose average was for the past three months. That is where the HbA1C test comes into play.

Over the four-month life cycle of a typical red blood cell, it will gather a substance known as glycated hemoglobin. That is another name for HbA1C. That glycated hemoglobin happens when glucose reacts with hemoglobin. These molecules will begin building up over time when there is too much. The levels of HbA1C will be much higher in people who have uncontrolled diabetes.

The test for HbA1C levels looks at how much glycated hemoglobin appears in a given blood sample. This indicates the average glucose level over a period of several weeks. An average person will have between 20-40 mmol/mol, or between 4% and 5.9%, of glycated hemoglobin in a given blood sample. However, if the test measures over 6.5%, it is an indicator of diabetes.

Once a patient has a diagnosis of diabetes, the doctor and patient will work on getting the diabetes under control. To check progress, the doctor will request a periodic HbA1C test. This happens usually every three to four months. This periodic testing offers the doctor an indicator if the diabetes is under control or if there are problems. When a patient is having problems, adjustments to medications and lifestyle can help bring the numbers lower.

Now, the average HbA1C is not always an indicator of good diabetes control. If someone has high spikes and low dips in their blood glucose levels, the average might be good, but the wild swings are not. That is why the HbA1C is only one of a few indicators doctors want to see when monitoring diabetes.

If you are recently diagnosed with diabetes, you will start to learn the language. One major test you will need periodically is the HbA1C. Use it as a guide to how well you are controlling your diabetes. It can save your life.

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