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HbA1c and what it measures

HbA1c is known as glycated haemoglobin. It is made when the glucose (sugar) in your body sticks to your red blood cells. Your body cannot use the sugar properly, so more of it sticks to your blood cells and builds up in your blood. Red blood cells are active for around 8 to 12 weeks, which is why the reading is taken quarterly.

A high HbA1c means you have too much sugar in your blood. This means you’re more likely to develop serious problems with your:

  • eyes
  • heart
  • feet
  • nerves
  • kidneys
  • liver

HbA1c test

The HbA1c test is a blood test that is usually done by your GP or diabetes care team. Your glucose meter test tells your blood glucose at a particular time. The HbA1c test gives your average glucose over a number of weeks. It will be checked as part of your routine check up.

You may need to have it checked more often if:

  • you’re planning for a baby
  • your treatment has recently changed
  • you’re having problems managing your blood sugar levels

An HbA1c test is also used to diagnose diabetes, and to check your levels if you’re at risk of developing diabetes.

The test is sometimes called haemoglobin A1c or just A1c.

Your HbA1c results

You should get the results quickly. This lets your healthcare team know if they need to change your treatment or medication to manage your levels better.

If you have diabetes, an ideal HbA1c level is 48mmol/mol or below

Your HbA1c can change for lots of reasons, including:

  • if you’re unwell
  • if you’re taking other medicines, like steroids
  • changes in lifestyle
  • if you’re feeling very stressed or you’re depressed.

The longer your HbA1c level is high, the more you’re at risk of developing serious complications, so know your result and talk to your diabetes team about them.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and getting regular exercise will help get your HbA1c levels under control.

page last reviewed: 11/11/2020
next review due: 11/11/2023

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