glycosylated hemoglobin test

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Glycosylated Hemoglobin Test



Glycosylated hemoglobin is a test that indicates how much sugar has been in a person's blood during the past two to four months. It is used to monitor the effectiveness of diabetes treatment.


Diabetes is a disease in which a person cannot effectively use sugar in the blood. Left untreated, blood sugar levels can be very high. High sugar levels increase risk of complications, such as damage to eyes, kidneys, heart, nerves, blood vessels, and other organs.
A routine blood sugar test reveals how close to normal a sugar level is at the time of the test. The glycosylated hemoglobin test reveals how close to normal it has been during the past several months.
This information helps a physician evaluate how well a person is responding to diabetes treatment and to determine how long sugar levels have been high in a person newly diagnosed with diabetes.


The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) demonstrated that people with diabetes who maintained blood glucose (sugar) and total fasting hemoglobin levels at or close to a normal range decreased their risk of complications by 50-75%. Based on results of this study, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends routine glycosylated hemoglobin testing to measure long-term control of blood sugar.
Glycosylated hemoglobin measures the percentage of hemoglobin bound to glucose. Hemoglobin is a protein found in every red blood cell. As hemoglobin and glucose are together in the red blood cell, the glucose gradually binds to the A1c form of hemoglobin in a process called glycosylation. The amount bound reflects how much glucose has been in the blood during the past average 120-day lifespan of red cells.
Several methods are used to measure the amount of bound hemoglobin and glucose. They are electrophoresis, chromatography, and immunoassay. All are based on the separation of hemoglobin bound to glucose from that without glucose.
The ADA recommends glycosylated hemoglobin be done during a person's first diabetes evaluation, again after treatment is begun and sugar levels are stabilized, then repeated at least semiannually. If the person does not meet treatment goals or sugar levels have not stabilized, the test should be repeated quarterly.
Other names for the test include: Hemoglobin A1c, Diabetic control index, GHb, glycosylated hemoglobin, and glycated hemoglobin. The test is covered by insurance. Results usually are available the following day.


A person does not need to fast before this test. A healthcare worker ties a tourniquet on the person's upper arm, locates a vein in the inner elbow region, and inserts a needle into the vein. Vacuum action draws the blood through the needle into an attached tube. Collection of the sample takes only a few minutes. This test requires 5 mL of blood.
In 2004, more convenient fingerstick methods of the test were being developed. An over-the-counter, at-home test kit was in the beginning stages of approval. People with diabetes could stick their own fingers, draw the blood and send the sample by mail for results within five to seven days.


Discomfort or bruising may occur at the puncture site, or the person may feel dizzy or faint. Pressure to the puncture site until bleeding stops reduces bruising. Warm packs relieve discomfort.

Normal results

Diabetes treatment should achieve glycosylated hemoglobin levels of less than 7.0%. Normal value for a non-diabetic person is 4.0-6.0%.
Because laboratories use different methods, results from different laboratories can not always be compared. The National Glycosylation Standardization Program gives a certification to laboratories using tests standardized to those used in the DCCT study.

Abnormal results

Results require interpretation by a physician with knowledge of the person's clinical condition, as well as the test method used. Some methods give false high or low results if the person has an abnormal hemoglobin, such as hemoglobin S or F.

Key terms

Diabetes mellitus — A disease in which a person can't effectively use sugar in the blood to meet the needs of the body. It is caused by a lack of the hormone insulin.
Glucose — The main form of sugar used by the body for energy.
Glycosylated hemoglobin — A test that measures the amount of hemoglobin bound to glucose. It is a measure of how much glucose has been in the blood during the past two to four months.
Conditions that increase the lifespan of red cells, such as a splenectomy (removal of the spleen), falsely increase levels. Conditions that decrease the lifespan, such as hemolysis (disruption of the red blood cell membrane), falsely decrease levels.



"Simple Choice A1c." Diabetes Forecast January 2004: RG7.


American Diabetes Association. 1701 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311. (800) 342-2383.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30333. (800) 311-3435, (404) 639-3311.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. 1 Information Way, Bethesda, MD 20892-3560. (800) 860-8747.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

glycosylated hemoglobin test

measurement of the percentage of hemoglobin A molecules that have formed a stable ketoamine linkage between the hemoglobin and glucose; this can be used to assess the control of blood glucose levels. In persons with a normal blood glucose level it amounts to about 7 per cent of the total; in those with diabetes mellitus it is about 14.5 per cent. The higher the blood glucose levels have been over the previous three months, the higher the glycosylated hemoglobin will be.
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
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