What Is a Normal A1C Level? Brush Up on a Key Blood Sugar Indicator

Whether you’re seeking to prevent diabetes, find out whether you have it or, if you do, improve how you manage it, there’s a test that can shed light on your status and help guide your decisions: the A1C test. This test can show how your blood sugar levels are trending over time—priceless data for you and your primary care provider (PCP). What is the A1C test, and what is a normal A1C level? Let’s answer these questions and explore steps you can take to control diabetes and meet your A1C target.

A1C, Explained

If you have diabetes, testing your blood sugar, or blood glucose, levels daily can be an important part of managing the disease. A blood glucose test, however, only provides a snapshot of your blood sugar levels. The A1C test shows the bigger picture.

Sugar binds to hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells. This is normal, but if too much sugar attaches to hemoglobin, blood sugar can get too high, potentially leading to Type 2 diabetes. The A1C test measures the percentage of your red blood cells that contains hemoglobin that contains excess sugar.

What makes the A1C test valuable is that it measures your average blood sugar during the previous three months. That can reveal long-term trends—whether your blood sugar levels have been going up, declining or holding steady during that timeframe. Using your test results, your PCP can determine whether you have prediabetes—a potential precursor to diabetes—or Type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes, the test results can help you and your PCP gauge how your management plan is working.

Defining a Normal A1C Level

Your A1C test result appears as a percentage.

  • A result lower than 5.7% is a normal A1C level.
  • If your result is 5.7% to 6.4%, you may have prediabetes.
  • If you have an A1C level of 6.5% or higher, you may have diabetes.

It’s possible to have a high A1C result and not have diabetes. That’s because your A1C level can be increased by certain diseases and medications, such as sickle cell anemia, kidney failure, liver disease and opioids.

In general, people with diabetes should aim for an A1C of 7% or less, but that goal isn’t universal. Your PCP will determine a personal A1C goal for you based on your overall health, your age and other factors. As a result, an acceptable A1C level for an older adult with diabetes may be slightly higher than for a younger adult with the disease.

Putting Your A1C to the Test

Getting an A1C test is simple. You can visit your PCP’s office or the River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic Direct Access Lab to provide a blood sample. You don’t need to fast in advance of having blood drawn for this test. If your PCP ordered the test to diagnose diabetes, he or she will send your sample to a specially certified lab for analysis. Otherwise, your sample will undergo analysis in the office or a nearby lab.

How often should you have an A1C test? It depends on where you are in your health journey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a baseline A1C test for adults older than 45 to test for prediabetes and diabetes. You can get your baseline test before age 45 if you have risk factors for those conditions.

If your A1C test result is normal and you’re older than 45, are at risk for prediabetes or diabetes, or developed diabetes during pregnancy, the CDC recommends repeating the test every three years. You’ll need to repeat the test more often if your result indicates prediabetes or diabetes.

Having regular A1C tests is an important part of managing diabetes. Your test results can show whether you’re on the right track with controlling the disease or need to change your strategy to manage it better. You’ll need to have an A1C test at least every six months. More frequent tests may be necessary if your health status or diabetes management plan changes.

You’re (Diabetes) Management Material

If you have diabetes, your goal is to manage it so you can stay active and independent and enjoy the things you love. With commitment, you can live well with diabetes.

A major part of your diabetes management plan is reaching and maintaining your A1C goal. To do that and protect your health, make some important changes to your lifestyle. To start:

  • Control chronic heart conditions. Diabetes can increase your risk for heart disease. As a result, it’s important to control other heart disease risk factors. Chief among these are high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Work with your PCP to manage these conditions.
  • Give up smoking. If you smoke, another way to protect your heart is to kick the habit. The combination of smoking and diabetes takes a toll on your cardiovascular system by narrowing your blood vessels and making your heart work harder than it needs to.
  • Follow a healthy diet. This will help you control diabetes and protect your heart at the same time. Ensure your diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, and low- or non-fat dairy products. Minimize the number of processed, high-calorie and high-salt foods in your diet.
  • Move more. Regular exercise can help you manage diabetes and meet your A1C goal. New to exercise and not sure how to start? Try visiting a fitness center where the staff can help design an exercise plan that works for you. Whatever you do, pick physical activities you enjoy, such as walking or swimming, so you’ll be more likely to stick with them.

Finally, take diabetes medications as prescribed and stay in touch with your greatest ally against diabetes: your PCP. Together, the two of you can shape a hopeful future in which diabetes doesn’t control your life.

Want to test your A1C without a trip to your PCP’s office? Schedule an appointment with the Direct Access Lab at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic. The lab doesn’t require a physician’s order for testing. You can share the results of your test with your PCP.


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