When you have type 2 diabetes, it can seem like you’re surrounded by numbers: numbers on the scale, numbers on food labels, and numbers to meet for fitness goals, just to name a few.
Your A1C number, which measures your average blood sugar level over the past 2 or 3 months, may just seem like one more thing to memorize. And if you’re already checking your blood sugar regularly with a glucose meter, you might wonder: Does my A1C number even matter?
Yes, it does. It’s so important not only to know your A1C but also how to keep it under control. To understand why, it’s good to know a little more about what A1C actually measures and how.
It’s like your batting average
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) compares your A1C to a batting average. In baseball, that number shows a player’s average performance over the season. They may have good games and bad games, but the seasonal average is a good indicator of how they’re doing overall.
Glucose meter checks and A1C tests are both ways to check your blood sugar. Whereas your daily tests show your glucose levels at any given moment, like a single baseball game, your A1C test gives a history of your blood glucose control over the past 2 to 3 months to see how your diabetes management is going overall, like a season’s batting average.
Knowing that average can help you and your care team track how your blood sugar is being controlled over time. Managing type 2 diabetes by keeping your A1C at the goal recommended by your doctor can help lower your risk for developing complications over time, according to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
What is my A1C goal?
The American Diabetes Association recommends an A1C of 7% or lower for many adults with diabetes, but that can vary from person to person. Higher or lower A1C goals may be appropriate for other people with type 2 diabetes, and your goal can even change over time.
But remember: Your numbers are your own and nobody else’s. Work with your doctor to find an A1C goal based on your health history and needs.
What happens if my A1C is too high?
If your A1C is above what your doctor thinks it should be, he or she may suggest adjustments to your diet, exercise, or medication. Diabetes is a progressive disease, and sometimes changes in your treatment plan may be needed. If your doctor decides it is time to change your plan, it may not mean you haven’t tried hard enough—many people need to adjust their treatment plan over time to help them reach their blood sugar goals.
The doctor may also want you to take a follow-up A1C test within a few months to see how those changes are working. Your doctor will tell you how often you need to have your A1C tested.
What if I don’t know my A1C number?
If you’ve forgotten your most recent A1C number, call the doctor’s office to ask for it. A helpful way to keep track is to get a notebook where you log all of your A1C numbers.
But if you haven’t had an A1C test within the past few months, call your doctor to ask when they recommend you get one next. The NIDDK recommends that most people get an A1C twice a year—and more often if their readings are high or if other conditions require more frequent checks.
How can I help lower my A1C number?
Work with your doctor to set goals for your diabetes management. Ways you can help reach those goals include:
- Eating good-for-you foods, like fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, while limiting salt, sugars, trans fats, and portion sizes;
- Getting active most days of the week after discussing an exercise plan with your doctor, whether it’s to walk or garden; and
- Following your doctor’s instructions, including taking any medications as prescribed.
If your doctor asks you to check your blood sugar between A1C tests, let them know your results and if you have any other questions about your diabetes management.