If you have been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels on a regular basis. One way to do this is by taking a hemoglobin A1C test which is a type of test that measures the average amount of sugar in your blood, also called glucose, over the past two to three months. You can either go to a lab or your doctor’s office to have a hemoglobin A1C test done, or you can use an at-home hemoglobin A1C test kit. In this article, we’ll discuss how to use an at-home hemoglobin A1C test kit and what to expect from the results.
What is a hemoglobin A1C test?
A hemoglobin A1C test, also called a glycated hemoglobin A1C test or HbA1c test, is a blood test that measures the average level of sugar in your red blood cells over the past two to three months. The test can be used for prediabetes or diabetes diagnosis, and it can also be used to monitor your diabetes if you have already been diagnosed which is a large component of diabetes management.
How do hemoglobin A1C tests work?
When you ingest food or drink, your body breaks down the carbohydrates into a sugar called glucose, which enters your bloodstream. Your pancreas then produces a hormone called insulin, which helps to move the glucose from your blood into your cells, where it can be used for energy. If you have diabetes, either your pancreas does not produce enough insulin or your body’s cells are resistant to the insulin, so the glucose stays in your blood. The more glucose that’s in your blood, the higher your hemoglobin A1C levels will be.
The way a hemoglobin A1C test works is that when your blood glucose levels are high, a higher percentage of your hemoglobin molecules will be glycated, or have glucose attached to them. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen to your cells. The test measures the percentage of glycated hemoglobin molecules in your total hemoglobin. The “A” in “HbA1C” stands for “average,” because the test measures the average level of glycation over a period of time. The higher your percentage of glycated hemoglobin, the higher your average blood glucose concentration has been over the past two to three months. If you have a low hemoglobin A1C level, that means your average blood sugar level has been in the normal range and you have good blood glucose control. The reason it can only test your blood glucose levels from the past two to three months is because that is the lifespan of your red blood cells.
When do I need to take a hemoglobin A1C at-home test?
If you have diabetes, you are supposed to have a hemoglobin A1C test at least twice a year to find out your average blood sugar level from the past several months. Knowing the results of your blood sugar levels over this period of time will help you and your doctor see if your current treatment plan is working. If you don’t have diabetes, but your doctor thinks you might be at risk for developing it or you have prediabetes, you might need to take a hemoglobin A1C test as well. The at-home kit is also known as HbA1c sampling kit or HbA1c test kit. You may also test at home to self-monitor if you have difficulties keeping your blood sugar levels in the normal range for diabetes self-management. Finally, if you do not like going to your doctor’s office or a lab or simply like the convenience and are more comfortable at your home, you may opt for a home test.
Which hemoglobin A1C at-home test is best?
There are a few different brands of hemoglobin A1C tests that you can buy without a prescription, and they all work similarly. The most common brands used are the following:
- Home Access
- DTI Laboratories
- Pixel by LabCorp
- myLAB Box
The differences between the brands are mostly in how easy they are to use and how much they cost. Most brands, like A1CNow+, require you to prick your finger and collect a drop of blood on a test strip; however, companies are working on kits that will allow you to use your saliva instead. The price of the tests also varies but is generally from around $30 to $150. Some tests are also subscription-based, so you have to pay a monthly fee but will get a test every month or every few months. Other tests also allow you to get results from the same sample of different things such as cholesterol levels.
How do I take an at-home hemoglobin A1C test?
The process of taking a hemoglobin A1C test at home is pretty straightforward, but it does require you to prick your finger and collect a small sample of blood. Most brands will provide you with everything you need in the kit, which usually includes a lancet (a small device that pricks your finger), test strips, and instructions.
To take the test, first, wash your hands and dry them or use an alcohol wipe on the area of your finger you intend to prick with the lancet. Then, use the lancet to prick your finger and collect a drop of blood on the test strip. Once you have enough blood, place the test strip in the provided container. The next stage is where some kits differ in that some will provide your results via an app on your phone to the company for interpretation or some kits even come with their own A1C analyzer to give blood glucose readings. Other kits ask you to send your sample to a lab testing service so they can analyze it. The time frame for results can take anywhere from five minutes to 10 days to receive depending on your test kit. Always remember when testing at home, to follow the product instructional material that comes with your kit very carefully.
How do you interpret the results of a hemoglobin A1C test?
The results of a hemoglobin A1C test are given as a percentage. Any results that are 5.7% or under mean you have average blood glucose levels. If your result is 5.7-6.4%, it means that you have prediabetes which means your blood sugar levels are starting to rise and you are at risk for developing diabetes. If your result is 6.5% or over it means that you have diabetes and have not exhibited good glycemic control.
Are at-home hemoglobin A1C tests accurate?
Research has shown that at-home hemoglobin A1C tests are just as accurate as the ones done in your doctor’s office or a lab. However, it is important to follow the instructions that come with your kit very carefully so that you do not get a false reading.
Are there any negatives to using an at-home hemoglobin A1C test?
The main negative to using an at-home hemoglobin A1C test is that it can be a little bit more expensive than getting the test done in your doctor’s office or a lab. However, if you have insurance, your insurance company may cover the cost of the test. Another negative is that you have to use the lancet for a finger prick to collect a small sample of blood, which you may not be comfortable with. There also can be false readings due to other medical conditions such as hemolytic anemia which is a blood disorder or due to user error. For all of these reasons, home A1C tests are not to be used by you to make medical decisions as you need to report the results to your doctor or healthcare professional for proper interpretation.
If you are interested in knowing your hemoglobin A1C levels, you can purchase a test kit online or in some stores. The process of taking a hemoglobin A1C test at home is pretty straightforward, but it does require you to prick your finger and collect a small blood sample. Most brands will provide you with everything you need in the kit, which usually includes a lancet (a small device that pricks your finger), test strips, and instructions. Depending on your test, you may have your test results in minutes or you may have to wait for laboratory testing which can take up to 10 days. After receiving your results, it is important to report the results to a medical professional for proper interpretation. Home A1C tests are not to be used by you to make medical decisions. If you have any more questions regarding at-home A1C tests or blood glucose levels, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
References and sources:
Canadian Journal of Diabetes
- Comparison of Glycated Hemoglobin Results Based on At-Home and In-Lab Dried Blood Spot Sampling to Routine Venous Blood Sampling In-Lab in Adult Patients With Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes
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