The 411 on Blood Glucose and A1C
Find out why tracking your blood glucose and A1C is important in managing your diabetes.

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The 411 on Blood Glucose and A1C

Diabetes is a disease characterized by high blood sugar. Therefore, keeping an eye on blood glucose levels is essential in making sure you're managing your diabetes well.

If your levels are too high or too low, your diabetes care team may need to make a change in your medications, eating plan or exercise routine.

Keeping your blood sugar in a normal range on a regular basis is a good idea. It not only helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle, but it may help prevent or delay health problems that can occur with diabetes.

Experts recommend two ways to monitor your blood glucose. One is for you to test your blood sugar yourself so you can see the results instantly. The other is an A1C test ordered by your doctor.

Blood glucose check
Testing your blood sugar is the main way you will monitor how well you're controlling your diabetes. The test can tell you your blood glucose level at any instant. It is a detailed view of your diabetes care.

Speak with your doctor about how often you should test yourself. Some people test their blood glucose once a day and others test it three or four times a day. Some people may need to test it even more often. Still, there are some who may need to test less often than every day. Your monitoring must be individualized. Make sure that you understand the mechanics of testing, too.

The target range for your blood glucose level depends on several factors including your age, how long you have had diabetes and other individual considerations. Speak with your doctor about the appropriate range for you.

Recording your glucose levels in a log will help you and your diabetes care team see how your body is responding to your diabetes care plan. You may also want to write down what you ate, if you exercised that day and how you felt.

If your blood sugar level has been too high or too low for several days, you may need to adjust your exercise routine, eating habits or diabetes medications. Find out from your health care provider when you should report results that are out of range and what they may mean for you.

A1C test
The A1C blood test, or hemoglobin A1C test, is an overall picture of your blood glucose level. It shows an average of your level over the past two to three months. It gives you a big-picture view of how your diabetes treatment plan is working.

Experts recommend that you have your A1C tested at least twice a year if you are meeting your treatment goals. If you're not, your doctor may recommend the test more often, such as every three months. This test does not replace your daily blood glucose self-testing. The A1C does not measure your day-to-day diabetes control.

Hemoglobin A1C is measured in percentages. Your doctor may give you a personalized goal depending on your age, risk of low blood sugar and whether you have complications. The goal for most non-pregnant adults is less than 7 percent. In some, for example, who have higher risks of low blood sugar or other co-existing conditions, less strict goal of less than 8 percent may be suggested by your doctor.

If your A1C levels are high, you may be at greater risk for complications such as kidney damage. You may need to change how you are managing your diabetes and adjust your diet, exercise routine or medications.

Talk with your doctor about the right target A1C target for you. The closer you can get to your target, the more likely you are to reduce your risk of problems with diabetes.

Keeping your blood glucose and A1C in goal range may help in the following ways:

  • Help prevent or delay health complications of diabetes. Eating well, being physically active and working with your diabetes care team are also important parts of preventing problems.
  • Protect your eyesight. High blood sugar levels can cause blood vessels in the eyes to bleed. That may lead to blindness.
  • Help prevent damage to your teeth and gums. People with diabetes are at risk for gingivitis and periodontitis. A gum infection may raise glucose levels. If untreated, it may cause your teeth to loosen and fall out.
  • Make it easier for your kidneys. Too much glucose in your blood is hard on your kidneys. Keeping it in your range may delay or prevent kidney disease.
  • Help you stay heart healthy. People with diabetes are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Controlling your blood sugar is one way to protect your heart and blood vessels.
  • Protect you from nerve damage. Numbness and pain in your hands, arms, feet and legs may occur. Many years of high blood glucose can cause particular harm to your feet and stomach.

Some people with diabetes may have depression. When you are depressed, you are less likely to eat well, exercise and take your medications. It is important to seek treatment for it because it may help you keep your blood glucose under control.

Diabetes can affect many parts of your body. But the good news is that you may help prevent future problems with proper blood glucose control today. Checking your glucose daily and testing your A1C regularly is essential to staying on track with your diabetes plan.

By Jennifer Mitchell, Editor
Created on 03/25/2013
Updated on 05/12/2014
  • American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care, Volume 37, Supplement 1, Standards of medical care in diabetes — 2014.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes health concerns.
  • National Diabetes Education Program. Learn about diabetes.
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Taking care of your diabetes everyday.
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