The A1C test measures your average blood glucose levels over the past 2–3 months. Though it can’t be lowered overnight, making lifestyle changes and sticking to your medical plan can decrease it over time.
Living with a chronic health condition like type 2 diabetes is often challenging because it requires us to change a lot about our everyday lives.
To ward off the long-term side effects of type 2 diabetes, behavior modifications like eating a well-balanced diet, taking daily medications, and moderate exercise don’t just help in the long run — they can also help you feel better now.
If you’ve been newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor has likely recommended that you monitor your daily blood glucose levels to track your condition.
Other than daily glucose tests, another key indicator of blood glucose levels is the A1C test. Read on for more information on what the A1C test is, what it measures, and if you can lower it quickly.
The hemoglobin A1C test is a blood test that gives information about your average levels of blood glucose, or blood sugar, over the past 2 to 3 months.
Everyone has sugar in their bloodstream, but people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes often have higher amounts.
The A1C test measures the amount of sugar attached to your hemoglobin and records it as a percentage. A healthcare professional will use the results of your A1C test to determine if your medical plan is working well or needs to be tweaked.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an A1C level of:
Your A1C levels can also be measured as an estimated average glucose number (eAG), where an A1C of 7% is a 154 average and an A1C of 10% is a 240 average on your blood sugar meter.
Unlike a blood glucose test, which is usually achieved by pricking your finger and providing your current blood glucose level, the A1C test doesn’t give current numbers. Instead, the test provides an overall average of the last 2 to 3 months.
For example, if you’ve eaten foods loaded with carbs and sugar for a few days for a special occasion and your numbers are higher than expected, but then you go back to your regular eating plan, those few days may not show anything out of the ordinary on your A1C result.
But if you’ve gone completely off your meal plan for several weeks or longer, your A1C will probably be higher.
Since the A1C test measures your blood glucose levels for the past 2 to 3 months, a good rule of thumb is to expect that it will take the same amount of time to see significant changes.
For most people with diabetes, healthcare professionals recommend keeping your A1C below 7% to prevent complications. But your A1C target will depend on your diabetes history and overall health, so make sure to discuss it with your doctor.
To live a long and healthy life with diabetes, you’ll want to keep your A1C levels as low as possible to prevent long-term side effects, including nerve damage, eye problems, and kidney disease.
The quickest way to lower your A1C is by taking your prescribed medication, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting up to 30 minutes of daily activity.
Your A1C level didn’t get elevated overnight but over several months, so it’s impossible to lower your A1C overnight. You can lower your daily blood sugar levels by eating foods from your meal plan, but it won’t reduce your A1C because the test doesn’t measure daily numbers.
While it may be tempting to lower your A1C as fast as possible, there have been reports of complications occurring from lowering A1C levels too quickly.
In a 2022 review of research, researchers found that people who lowered their A1C levels too fast experienced early worsening of diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that causes the blood vessels in your retina to narrow, which can lead to severe eye problems including blindness. Researchers are still working to understand why it happens to some people and not others.
If your A1C test result is higher than your medical team would like, here are a few ways to bring it down:
The A1C test measures the amount of glucose in your bloodstream. A normal A1C is below 5.7%, and anything above 6.5% is considered diabetes.
You can lower your A1C by eating a balanced diet, taking prescribed medication, and getting 30 minutes of daily exercise.
By following the recommendations from your medical team, it’s possible to lower your A1C safely and avoid the potential long-term effects associated with diabetes. If you have any questions about your A1C, ask your doctor or a diabetes educator for more information.
Medically reviewed on March 31, 2023
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