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A1C Test Helps Monitor Diabetes and Design Treatment Plans

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 1/23/2009

If you have diabetes, or your blood sugar levels have been elevated recently, your doctor may ask you to have an A1C test done. This is an important test for diabetics, so you must get the test done as instructed and work with your doctor to design a treatment plan around the results.

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    A1C Defined

    You may be wondering what A1C is and what the A1C test measures. When you have your blood glucose level checked, the test only gives an accurate assessment of what your blood glucose level is at a specific time. If you forget to fast for your test, your results may be skewed. Your results may be higher at certain times of the day than others. When you're trying to actively monitor a condition such as diabetes, it's best to use a test that will give you a good picture of your body's usage of glucose over a period of time. The A1C test can do that and help your doctor design a better treatment plan.

    According to the American Diabetes Association, hemoglobin links up with sugars like glucose. When your diabetes is not managed well, you have extra glucose that enters your blood cells and glycates with the hemoglobin present in those cells. If you have a lot of excess glucose, a lot of hemoglobin will get glycated. It is possible to measure this activity using the A1C test, which allows doctors to determine how well your glucose has been controlled for the several months preceding the A1C test.

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    How Does the A1C Test Work?

    The A1C test is a more reliable indicator of glucose control because it stores a memory of how well your body has been using glucose over several months. In fact, your A1C levels reflect glucose control for a period of 120 days, which is the length of the life cycle of a red blood cell. Once your old red blood cells die off, new ones take their place and begin storing A1C based on current glucose control.

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    Benefits of A1C Test

    The A1C test has several benefits, especially for diabetics. In people without diabetes, a normal amount of glycated hemoglobin is around 5%. In diabetics, this can increase to over 20% if a patient's glucose control is poor. Using the A1C test helps doctors determine if patients have been controlling their glucose well. The A1C test can also help to determine if a course of treatment is effective. If a patient has a high A1C level, a doctor may recommend a new course of treatment and order the A1C test again in three to four months. If the patient follows the treatment plan, and the A1C test shows a lower level of A1C in the blood, then the treatment plan can be considered a success and can be continued.

    The A1C test can also help to determine if a diabetic patient is using glucose monitoring supplies incorrectly. If a patient reports good glucose readings, but an A1C test shows poor glucose control, a doctor can observe how the patient is doing their glucose checks and let them know if there is anything they are doing that is causing an inaccurate result.

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    A1C Test Reference Materials

    American Diabetes Association. "A1C Test." Retrieved January 23, 2008. Available: American Diabetes Association