The WellSpan Spotlight

Health and wellness

Decoding the A1C: What to know about this important test

Decoding the A1C: What to know about this important test

You may have heard the term A1C on commercials about medicines for diabetes or even seen it in your own blood test results. 

What is A1C? Why is it important? How is it measured? Who needs to be tested for it? 

"A1C is an important test that can determine if you are at risk for or have diabetes," says Mary Swindlehurst, a WellSpan diabetes education team leader. "Our diabetes educator team can help you manage your blood sugar and help you with healthier lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. It all starts with knowing your A1C." 

Here's everything you need to learn about this common test. 

What is A1C?  

A1C represents your average blood sugar levels over the past three months. 

It can be determined by a simple, non-fasting blood test. The result is given as a percentage, which represents the percentage of red blood cells that have a sugary coating on the hemoglobin, a protein found in the cell. 

Who should be tested? 

If you are over age 45, you should have a baseline test. 

If you are under the age of 45, you should have the test if you are overweight or have one or more risk factors for type 2 diabetes, including: 

  • You have been diagnosed with prediabetes. 
  • You have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes. 
  • You have a sedentary lifestyle or are physically active less than three times a week. 
  • You have had gestational diabetes or had a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds. 
  • You are Black, Hispanic, Latino, American Indian, or Alaskan native. 

Your provider also may order the test for you if you are displaying symptoms of diabetes that include intense thirst, increased urination, blurry vision, or fatigue, Swindlehurst says. 

What are normal results? 

  • A normal reading is below 5.7%. 
  • A prediabetes reading is 5.7% to 6.4%. 
  • A diabetes reading is 6.5% or higher. 

What does it mean if you have prediabetes or diabetes? 

Prediabetes is a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or the body's cells don't react to insulin. The result is that glucose stays in your blood and isn't used as fuel for energy. 

Left untreated, diabetes can cause heart disease, stroke, organ problems, and other life-threatening issues. 

What are the next steps? 

If your result is normal but you're over 45, have risk factors, or have ever had gestational diabetes, repeat the A1C test every 3 years. 

If your result shows you have prediabetes, talk to your doctor about taking steps to improve your health and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. 

If your result shows you have diabetes, it's important to take steps to address the condition. Losing weight, eating well, and exercising can help manage the disease. If those steps don't control blood sugar, your provider may prescribe diabetes medications or insulin therapy. 

WellSpan offers a variety of diabetes self-management education and other support services. 

"A registered dietitian can help you plan and eat a healthier diet, as well as give you other guidance about your blood sugar levels," Swindlehurst says. "You don't have to go it alone. We are here to support you." 

Certified diabetes educators offer a diabetes education program in Adams, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York counties. A referral from a provider is needed. WellSpan also has diabetes educators in Franklin County, who are available for individual sessions. For more information, call 717-217-6820. 

Other programs include Taking Charge of Your Diabetes in Lancaster County and Diabetes Self Management Education in Lebanon County (also requiring a provider referral).  

Worried about your blood sugar levels? Our primary care providers can help you with testing and connection to support services. Get started by finding a provider in your neighborhood by going here.