What does HbA1c mean for diabetes?

June 6, 2019

What does HbA1c mean?

HbA1c is what’s known as glycated haemoglobin. This is something that’s made when the glucose (sugar) in your body sticks to your red blood cells. Your body can’t use the sugar properly, so more of it sticks to your blood cells and builds up in your blood. Red blood cells are active for around 2-3 months, which is why the reading is taken quarterly. 
Too much sugar in the blood damages your blood vessels. This damage can lead to serious problems in parts of your body like your eyes and feet. 

What is HbA1c?

HbA1c is your average blood glucose (sugar) levels for the last two to three months.
A high HbA1c means you have too much sugar in your blood. This means you’re more likely to develop diabetes complications, like serious problems with your eyes and feet.
Knowing your HbA1c level and what you can do to lower it will help you reduce your risk of devastating complications. This means getting your HbA1c checked regularly. 
You’re entitled to get this test at least once a year. But if your HbA1c is high or needs a little more attention, it’ll be done every three to six months. Don’t skip it.
Once you know your HbA1c level, it’s important you understand what the results mean and how to stop them from going too high. Even a slightly raised HbA1c level makes you more at risk of serious complications, so get all the facts here and be in the know about HbA1c.
So what’s the ideal HbA1c level when you have diabetes? It’s 48mmol/mol (6.5%) or below. It’s different if you’ve been told you’re at risk of developing Type 2.

HbA1c Test

You can check these average blood sugar levels yourself, but you’ll have to buy a kit, whereas your healthcare professional will do it for free. It’s different from a finger-prick test, which is a snapshot of your blood sugar levels at a particular time, on a particular day.  
You find out your HbA1c level by getting a blood test by a doctor or nurse. Your healthcare team will arrange this for you, but chase it up with your GP if you haven’t had one for a few months. 
Most people will have the test every three to six months. But you may need it more often if you’re planning for a baby, your treatment has recently changed, or you’re having problems managing your blood sugar levels.
And some people will need the test less often, usually later on during pregnancy. Or need a different test altogether, like with some types of anaemia. A fructosamine test can be used instead, but it’s very rare.
An HbA1c test is also used to diagnose diabetes, and to keep an eye on your levels if you’re at risk of developing diabetes (you have prediabetes). 
The test is sometimes called haemoglobin A1c or just A1c.

Your HbA1c results

You should get the results quickly. The result of the HbA1c test lets your healthcare team know if they need to change your treatment or medication to help you manage your levels better. But it also tells you a number and it’s important you understand what this means. Some people find it helps to write their results down in a diary, to keep track of them and see if they can spot any trends.
And your HbA1c can change for lots of reasons, including: 
• if you’re unwell
• if you’re taking other medicines, like steroids
• changes in lifestyle
• if you’re feeling very stressed or you’re depressed.

HbA1c Values

If the values are less than or equal to 5.6%, it indicates a non-diabetic report. 5.7 to 6.4% are indications of prediabetes. One is definitely diabetic if the value is equal to or greater than 6.5%
If you are already a diabetic, you are advised to maintain a certain level of HbA1c values. Following values can be considered as a tool for monitoring the glycemic control.
• Excellent control – 6 to 7%
• Fair to good control – 7 to 8%
• Unsatisfactory control – 8 to 10%
• Poor control – More than 10%

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