Why should I check my A1c?
A single blood sugar test can provide you with a snapshot of how your blood sugar is doing at that moment. However, what have your blood glucose levels been like for the past two to three months? An A1c test can paint that picture.
How often should I check my A1c?
For individuals with good glucose control, the American Diabetes Association recommends A1C testing every six months. For those who need additional assistance staying on track, testing every three months is recommended.
"I try to do an A1c every time the patient comes to the office," said Dr. K.K. Rajamani, Chief of the Division of Endocrinology at Unity Health. "This may be every two to three months. Most people would like to know if their number is getting worse or better."
For those who want to know the answer but don't want to wait on a lab to get the results, there are A1c tests available for home use. These tests have become a hot commodity lately, but are they really a good idea?
"I think it is a nice test to have," Dr. Rajamani said. "The problem is that once you have the result, as with many other home tests, you are not sure what to do with the result and often will need to talk to a health care provider. The home testing is also not paid for by insurance companies and therefore could potentially add to the cost of care."
Tips for reaching a healthy A1c
Consult with your physician to determine your A1c goals. For most people, an excellent A1c number is 7.0 or less. Once you know what that goal is, how can you make sure you reach it?
"The best way to decrease the hemoglobin A1c is to decrease blood sugar levels before meals as well as after meals," advised Mary Vaccarello-Cruz, MD, director of the FAU Diabetes Educations and Research Center. "This is best done with a diet that restricts most sugar and limits carbohydrates. Three small balanced meals and three, even smaller, snacks are beneficial along with alternating cardio and weight training exercise."
It is important to remember that an A1c, while helpful, is only part of the story. Blood glucose testing at regular intervals throughout the day can actually give a more accurate picture. Keep track of your blood sugar readings in a log book in order to compare your results with what the A1c says.
"Remember the hemoglobin A1c test is an average of your blood sugar for the past three months," Dr. Vaccarello-Cruz said. "It can be misleading as well. If 50 percent of your blood sugars are 50 and the other fifty percent are 300, you will have an average of 175, which translates in a much better A1c. So daily self-monitoring of blood glucose is also very important."
If you haven't had your A1c tested in a while, now is the time. Getting an honest assessment from the lab can help you and your doctor figure out the diabetes care plan that is right for getting your blood sugars under control.
Interview with Mary Vaccarell-Cruz, MD,
Interview with K.K. Rajamini, MD,
Diabetes Care, "Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes", http://www.care.diabetesjournals.org