Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c is a protein on the surface of red blood cells. The HbA1c test is used to monitor blood sugar levels in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes over time. Normal HbA1c levels are 6% or less. HbA1c levels can be affected by insulin use, fasting, glucose intake (oral or IV), or a combination of these and other factors. High hemoglobin A1c levels in the blood increases the risk of microvascular complications, for example, diabetic neuropathy, eye, and kidney disease.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
The progression of nephropathy in patients can be significantly slowed by controlling high blood pressure, and by aggressively treating high blood sugar levels. Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) used in treating high blood pressure may also benefit kidney disease in patients with diabetes.
Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key to let blood sugar into the cells in your body for use as energy. If you have type 2 diabetes, cells don’t respond normally to insulin; this is called insulin resistance. Your pancreas makes more insulin to try to get cells to respond. Eventually your pancreas can’t keep up, and your blood sugar rises, setting the stage for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar is damaging to the body and can cause other serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.
“It’s not like you wake up one day and all of a sudden you’re thirsty, hungry, and [going to the bathroom] all the time,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, RD, a certified diabetes educator in Illinois and a spokesperson for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. “It picks up gradually.” Indeed, “most people are unaware that they have diabetes in its early or even middle phases,” says Aaron Cypess, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and staff physician at Joslin Diabetes Center. Just because you’re not keyed in doesn’t mean you’re immune from problems associated with diabetes, he adds. The longer you go without controlling diabetes, the greater your risk for heart disease, kidney disease, amputation, blindness, and other serious complications. “We recommend that people with risk factors for diabetes, such as a family history or being overweight, get evaluated on a regular basis,” Dr. Cypess says. If you’ve been feeling off, talk to your doctor about getting a simple blood test that can diagnose the disease. And pay attention to these subtle signs and symptoms of diabetes.
Doctors and people with diabetes have observed that infections seem more common if you have diabetes. Research in this area, however, has not proved whether this is entirely true, nor why. It may be that high levels of blood sugar impair your body's natural healing process and your ability to fight infections. For women, bladder and vaginal infections are especially common.
Family or personal history. Your risk increases if you have prediabetes — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — or if a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, has type 2 diabetes. You're also at greater risk if you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, if you delivered a very large baby or if you had an unexplained stillbirth.
According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors may use other tests to diagnose diabetes. For example, they may conduct a fasting blood glucose test, which is a blood glucose test done after a night of fasting. While a fasting blood sugar level of less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is normal, one that is between 100 to 125 mg/dL signals prediabetes, and a reading that reaches 126 mg/dL on two separate occasions means you have diabetes.