What is Glycosylated Hemoglobin?

Misty Wiser
Misty Wiser
Red blood cells containing hemoglobin.
Red blood cells containing hemoglobin.

Glycosylated hemoglobin, also known as glycated hemoglobin, is a red blood cell that has absorbed free-floating glucose from the blood stream. Glucose, or sugar, binds to a protein called heme within the cells in a non-reversible process called glycation. A test showing the concentration of glycosylated hemoglobin may be done to determine the amount of sugar in the blood over the entire lifespan of a red blood cell, which is usually about 120 days. This information enables a physician to determine the average blood glucose levels over time of a person with diabetes.

High blood sugar can cause poor blood circulation in the limbs, which may lead to amputation.
High blood sugar can cause poor blood circulation in the limbs, which may lead to amputation.

All people have a percentage of glycosylated hemoglobin circulating in the bloodstream. The average person will show a concentration of four to five percent on test results. A person with diabetes will typically have a result that is greater than seven percent.

The test for glycosylated hemoglobin is called a diabetic control index, a hemoglobin A1c test, or an HbA1c measurement. Blood is drawn to measure a person’s glycosylated hemoglobin levels. The most common complaint after the test is bruising or tenderness at the draw site. Over-the-counter pain relievers and an ice pack on the area can help alleviate the pain and swelling.

Testing is recommended twice a year for people with well-regulated diabetes. People that do not have stable sugar levels may need to be tested up to four times a year. The test may also be ordered to confirm a diagnosis of diabetes.

The A1C laboratory test, which looks for glycosylated hemoglobin, is the most accurate way to measure blood glucose.
The A1C laboratory test, which looks for glycosylated hemoglobin, is the most accurate way to measure blood glucose.

Elevated concentrations of glycosylated hemoglobin can indicate the risk of future health complications from diabetes. More people with consistently high percentages of glycosylated hemoglobin experience damage to the small blood vessels in the body. This damage can lead to blindness and kidney disease. Some people have the sensation of numbness or pins and needles in the arms and legs because of diabetic neuropathy.

An ice pack may help alleviate pain and swelling of a draw site following a test for glycosylated hemoglobin.
An ice pack may help alleviate pain and swelling of a draw site following a test for glycosylated hemoglobin.

A common complication of diabetes is slow wound healing, especially on the extremities. High blood sugar levels can cause poor blood circulation throughout the body. Without adequate blood supply, tissue is unable to heal and may become infected and necrotize, or die off. Surgical debridement of the infected area or an amputation of the dying tissue may be necessary to prevent the spread of the infection.

Medication and a nutritious diet are key in managing blood sugar levels over time.
Medication and a nutritious diet are key in managing blood sugar levels over time.

Medication, a nutritious diet, and regular exercise can lower blood sugar levels and improve circulation over time. The decrease in the available sugar in the bloodstream will cause lowered glycosylated hemoglobin percentages. An accurate depiction of average blood sugar levels cannot be determined from the test within three months of a diet or exercise change.

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    • Red blood cells containing hemoglobin.
      By: Steve Young
      Red blood cells containing hemoglobin.
    • High blood sugar can cause poor blood circulation in the limbs, which may lead to amputation.
      By: kolotype
      High blood sugar can cause poor blood circulation in the limbs, which may lead to amputation.
    • The A1C laboratory test, which looks for glycosylated hemoglobin, is the most accurate way to measure blood glucose.
      By: spflaum
      The A1C laboratory test, which looks for glycosylated hemoglobin, is the most accurate way to measure blood glucose.
    • An ice pack may help alleviate pain and swelling of a draw site following a test for glycosylated hemoglobin.
      By: Kimberly Reinick
      An ice pack may help alleviate pain and swelling of a draw site following a test for glycosylated hemoglobin.
    • Medication and a nutritious diet are key in managing blood sugar levels over time.
      By: Gordan Jankulov
      Medication and a nutritious diet are key in managing blood sugar levels over time.