Hemoglobin A1c Lab Test

Hemoglobin A1c Lab Tests, also called A1c, HbA1c, or glycated hemoglobin is a test that measures the average amount of blood sugar (also called glucose) attached to your hemoglobin over the past three months. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. Doctors generally recommend getting an HbA1c every three months if you are managing a chronic condition like diabetes. That's because three months is the average lifespan of a red blood cell.

An HbA1c test is generally used by doctors to check for diabetes or prediabetes in adults. If you have already been diagnosed with diabetes, an HbA1c can help you and your doctor evaluate and manage your condition.

A1c tests are usually performed by your primary care provider. To diagnose prediabetes or diabetes, the test is performed by taking a sample of blood via a needle inserted in the arm. If your doctor suspects that you may be at risk for diabetes, they will usually order two separate A1c tests to be performed on different days. Once the blood has been drawn, it will be sent to a lab for analysis. It may take a day or two before you get your results back.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are undergoing an A1c test to manage your condition, your provider can draw blood via a prick of the finger. This drawn blood will be put in a vial and tested in the office that day. This means you will usually get your results on the same day as your appointment.

No preparation is needed. Feel free to eat and drink as normal before the test.

Diagnostic HbA1c tests are used to determine blood sugar levels - the critical factor in diabetes diagnosis. The results of an A1c test are given as percentages. These correspond to your blood sugar levels.

- Below 5.7%: A1c levels that are below 5.7% indicate healthy blood sugar levels. This means you are not currently at risk of developing diabetes.

- Between 5.7-6.4%: This range indicates prediabetes, a serious health condition. Prediabetes requires immediate treatment to manage blood sugar levels and prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

- 6.5% or higher (after 2 separate tests): Blood sugar levels higher than 6.5% indicate that you have developed diabetes. Doctors will order two separate A1c tests to conclusively test dangerous blood sugar levels. If both tests come back with blood sugar levels at over 6.5%, they will begin treating you for diabetes.

For individuals already managing diabetes, doctors will aim to keep blood sugar levels under 7%. Blood sugar levels over 7% may require an adjustment in your treatment plan.

There are 4 common forms of diabetes. These are detailed below:

- Prediabetes: This is when your blood sugar is too high, but not high enough for your doctor to diagnose it as diabetes. It can, however, increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. More than a third of all people in the United States have prediabetes, though most are unaware of it. Exercising more and losing weight can lower the risk of it progressing.

- Type 1 diabetes: Also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. It occurs when your body attacks your pancreas with antibodies causing the organ to stop producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes usually appears in adolescence. Most people are born with Type 1 diabetes and do not develop the disease as a result of obesity or other health conditions. Genetics are the most common risk factor for this form of diabetes.

- Type 2 diabetes: With type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually produces some insulin, but either doesn't produce enough, or the body doesn't use it correctly. About 90% of people who have diabetes have type 2. People who are obese (more than 20% over their target body weight) are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

- Gestational diabetes: Pregnancy often causes some amount of insulin resistance. When your body is unable to adequately manage blood sugar levels as a result of hormone changes during pregnancy, you may develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs in about 2%-10% of pregnancies and it usually goes away after birth. However, about 10% of women who have gestational diabetes are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later on.

Diabetes treatment involves keeping a close eye on your blood sugar levels and keeping them in the target range set by your doctor through a combination of diet, exercise, and medication.

Your doctor may recommend you check your blood glucose levels daily. An instrument called a glucometer is used to check the blood sugar by dabbing a sample of your blood on a strip of paper. A newer device, known as a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), can be attached to your body and can measure your blood sugar every few minutes for up to a week at a time.

Monitoring your glucose gives you and your doctor a better idea of your body's changing need for insulin. For some people with type 2 diabetes, diet and exercise may be enough to control your diabetes. Others will need medication, which may be either an oral drug or insulin. There are a variety of oral drugs that a doctor may choose to prescribe, that each works in different ways. Insulin may be administered either as a shot, an insulin pen, or have an insulin pump.

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