Understanding and managing HbA1c
What do HbA1c tests measure?
The HbA1c counts the number of red blood cells that have glucose attached to them, and reports it as a percentage. The results are measured as mmol/mol. This is a different test to your self blood glucose monitoring which measures the amount of glucose freely circulating in the blood – and uses a different unit of measure, mmol/mol.
How is HbA1c tested?
Unlike blood glucose levels that you do daily with a glucose meter, HbA1c tests need to be done by a health care professional. These are usually done every three months.
Why is testing HbA1c important?
HbA1c levels give doctors and those living with diabetes invaluable information. HbA1c levels do not fluctuate quickly because once the red blood cells are attached to glucose, they remain that way until they die (up to 3 months). For this reason HbA1c levels give a picture of blood glucose control over a long period of time. HbA1c is an important indicator of a person’s risk of developing complications of diabetes.
So why still measure blood glucose levels?
HbA1c and blood glucose levels give us two different sets of information. HbA1c provides information about long-term glucose control to help with overall management of your diabetes. But it does not give us ‘real-time’ feed back. Blood glucose levels give us information about the ’now’ – what is happening this very minute. It helps to identify the impact that diet, exercise, medication, stress and illness, for example, have on blood glucose levels. That means you can detect immediately any instances of hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia. This allows immediate changes to treatment such as insulin, food intake and activity levels.