What you don’t know CAN hurt you: Why regular blood tests are an important part of diabetes management

July 17th, 2018

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a common disease that occurs when your blood glucose is too high. Glucose is a sugar molecule (this is why blood sugar and blood glucose are often used interchangeably). Your body uses glucose for energy. It gets this energy by breaking down certain foods into glucose. The glucose then travels through your blood into your cells where it is used for energy. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble bringing the glucose from the blood into the cells. The glucose stays in your blood longer resulting in high blood glucose (diabetes).

What is a Hemoglobin A1c?

An A1c is a blood test that reflects your average blood sugar readings over the previous 3 months. It measures the percentage of hemoglobin molecules in your red blood cells that have glucose attached to them. Glucose naturally sticks to hemoglobin in red blood cells. When blood glucose is high, more hemoglobin molecules have glucose attached to them. Glucose stays on the red blood cell for the life of the red blood cell (120 days). This is why the A1c blood test represents an average three-month glucose level.

Why should I test my A1c?

There are usually no symptoms of high blood glucose so it can be difficult to know whether or not you are living with diabetes. By testing your A1c it can let you know if you have high blood glucose (diabetes). This test can also tell let you know if you are at higher risk for developing preventable complications related to high blood glucose. Once you have this information your doctor can refer you to the diabetes education program. In this program you will be provided with some tools to help you prevent or delay the development of diabetes and to help prevent the complications associated with high blood glucose. If you’re already living with diabetes the diabetes education program can help you keep on track with your A1c testing.

Who should get A1c tested?

Everyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes should check their A1c every 3-6 months. Although there are many complications related to having high blood glucose for a long period of time, these complications can be prevented or reduced by keeping your blood glucose in target range. Knowing your A1c level can help you, your doctor and your diabetes team determine your best management options.

If you are not living with diabetes it may still be a good idea to get tested. If you are over the age of 40 you are at risk for type 2 diabetes and should test your blood glucose every 3 years.

If you have risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing diabetes, you should be tested more frequently and can start testing before the age of 40. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Being a member of the following populations: African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous, or South Asian
  • Being previously diagnosed with prediabetes or gestational diabetes

Not sure your risk? Take this test to find out: http://www.diabetes.ca/about-diabetes/take-the-test

Bottom line: The earlier you are diagnosed, the sooner you can take action to stay well. If you have any questions or are interested in more information about diabetes call 416-204-1256 to speak to someone from the TCFHT Diabetes Education Program.