If you are living with diabetes, managing your A1c levels is critical to staying healthy and reducing your risk for diabetes-related complications. What is a normal A1c level, and how can you effectively lower it to an a1c normal range? Knowing the answers to these questions and where to find an A1c test can empower you to manage and improve your condition.
What is hemoglobin?
Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body, including cells and organs. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hemoglobin levels that fall outside of the normal range could indicate that you have a blood disorder. However, in the context of diabetes, doctors evaluate hemoglobin differently to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
Glucose (sugar) binds to hemoglobin in blood cells. If too much glucose is binding to hemoglobin in your blood cells, this may indicate you have either prediabetes, diabetes, or that your diabetes is not being properly managed.
A test called the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test, or the A1c test for short, measures the amount of glucose that binds to hemoglobin. The NIH states that your doctor may have you take an A1c test regularly to determine whether you have normal A1c levels or whether it’s time to change your current diabetes treatment plan.
How the test works
According to the NIH, the A1c test is performed as a blood test. During the test, your doctor or a lab technician will draw a small sample of blood from a vein in your arm using a small, fine needle. Your blood will be drawn into one or more test tubes or vials, which are then sent to the lab for analysis.
Results from the A1c test reveal what the average amount of glucose attached to hemoglobin has been over the last 90 days. According to the NIH, the test uses a 90-day average because 90 days is the typical lifespan of a red blood cell.
After your results are ready, your doctor will review them and contact you to discuss your A1c levels in more detail. The NIH reports that the A1c test is most commonly used to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes and to determine whether your treatment plan needs to be changed if you are already living with diabetes.
A1c/average blood sugar chart
A1c test results come out as percentages. According to the NIH, normal A1c levels are at or below 5.7%. An A1c level between 5.7% and 6.4% may indicate prediabetes, and an A1c level of 6.5% or higher may indicate diabetes. For example, if hemoglobin A1c 5.9% is your percentage, your doctor may diagnose you with prediabetes.
The NIH adds that your A1c level should be kept below 7% if you have diabetes. Your doctor will work closely with you to reduce your A1c to normal levels if they are too high and may recommend eating healthier foods and exercising regularly to help regulate your blood sugar.
Ways to lower your A1c
You can reduce your A1c and achieve normal A1c levels. The NIH recommends practicing a series of healthy lifestyle behaviors to lower your A1c, including eating healthy foods, staying active, and using your diabetes medication responsibly and as directed.
Your doctor can help you develop a healthy diabetes meal plan that can reduce your blood sugar levels. Eat a higher amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and a lower amount of sugar, salt, and saturated and trans fats. The NIH also recommends drinking more water, as many sodas and fruit juices are prone to containing high amounts of sugar.
Exercise can naturally reduce your blood sugar levels and regulate other hormones, including those related to stress. The NIH advises to start slow by taking 10-minute walks three times a day, gradually working your way up to higher intensity exercises.
Other steps you can take to lower your A1c, according to the NIH, include quitting smoking, reducing your alcohol intake, and managing your blood pressure level. Your doctor may provide you with other ways to lower your A1c based on your lifestyle and personal health situation.
How often do you need the test?
You should take an A1c lab test as often as your doctor recommends, which is based on factors including your age and whether or not you currently have diabetes.
The CDC recommends taking an A1c lab test two times a year if you are currently living with diabetes.
If you are over the age of 45, meet diabetes risk factors, or have ever been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the CDC recommends getting an A1c test every three years.
If results from the A1c test show you have prediabetes, your doctor may recommend having the test every one to two years. Ask your doctor how often you should have the A1c test based on previous A1c results and medical history.
What is a normal hemoglobin A1c level?
A normal hemoglobin A1c level is at or below 5.7%, according to the NIH. However, it’s important to have your A1c checked regularly if you have diabetes or have been diagnosed with prediabetes or gestational diabetes.
How often do you need an A1c test?
The CDC recommends having an A1c test twice a year if you have diabetes, or every three years if you meet diabetes risk factors, are over the age of 45, or have ever been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. If previous A1c test results show you have prediabetes, your doctor may recommend repeating the test every one or two years.
Where can I get an A1c test?
A1c tests are available from many healthcare providers including hospitals, urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, and general physicians. This lab test is also available from providers that specialize in various lab testing, including COVID testing.
One of the easiest ways to find an A1c test provider is to use Solv. Solv can provide you with a list of highly-rated healthcare facilities in your area that offer the A1c test. Use Solv to find an A1c test provider, then book a same-day or next-day appointment directly from the website. Solv is devoted to connecting families with convenient, hassle-free healthcare services.
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- Hemoglobin Test (July 31, 2020)
- The A1C Test & Diabetes (April 2018)
- Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) Test (September 15, 2021)
- 4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life (January 2016)
- All About Your A1C (August 10, 2021)