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If you have diabetes, it's important to keep tight control of your blood sugar. The Hemoglobin A1c test, or HbA1C test, is one way to find out if you are in control.

Hemoglobin is an important part of the red blood cell. Red blood cells live about three months. During the life of a red blood cell, sugar molecules, also floating around in your blood, tend to want to stick to the hemoglobin of your red blood cells. Identifying these sugar molecules allows us to get an approximate three-month average of how high persons blood sugars have been.

The HbA1c test helps us diagnose a patient suspected of having diabetes and monitors the blood sugar of a diabetic patient.

Now, how do we screen for diabetes?
If your doctor suspects you have diabetes, your physician will order this simple blood test.

A normal HbA1c level is less than 6.0%, which is a three month blood sugar average of around 126 milligrams per deciliter, written like this in your lab results. (126 mg/dl)

A HgbA1c level of 5.7% - 6.4% means you are pre-diabetic or borderline-diabetic. If your HgbA1C is 6.5% or higher, you are considered to be a diabetic. That correlates roughly to a 3-month blood sugar average of 140.

So, if you are a diabetic, what level should your HbA1c be?
Through a combination of a good diabetic diet that controls for carbohydrates, proteins, fats and calories, the American Diabetes Association currently recommends a HbA1C goal of less than 7%.

I should also point out that the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends an even stricter control of diabetes - with a recommended goal of less than 6.5%.

What we do know is diabetes causes permanent and irreversible damage to the nerves, blood vessels and body organs, like your eyes, kidneys, heart and also your feet. So, it's critical to get and keep your diabetes under good control to avoid serious long-term health problems.

People often ask…"How often should a hemoglobin A1C test be done IF you are a diabetic?" Since the HbA1c Test reflects 3 months of control, I recommend getting checked every 3 months to let you, and your doctor know how you're doing.

Remember, if you have diabetes, keeping good control of your blood sugar reduces your risk for long-term health problems, like Eye, heart, kidney problems, and even stroke. See your doctor for HbA1c tests every 3 months; you'll be glad you did.


Review Date: 10/25/2011
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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