Knowing, monitoring, and controlling your ABCs—A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol—is essential to diabetes care. Find out why these measures are so important, plus what the numbers mean and how often you should get tested.

Diabetic Living Editors

Three important diabetes measures

There is so much to think about when you have diabetes, but this easy-to-remember acronym will help you focus on what's important and take control of your health. Read our breakdown and talk to your doctor about what's right for you.Don't Miss: 12 Healthy Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar

A = AIC

What is it?
An A1C blood test measures the percentage of hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying protein in your red blood cells) coated with sugar. It measures your average blood glucose (sugar) level over the past two to three months. The A1C test gives you and your health care provider a measure of your progress. Most people with diabetes should have an A1C test every three to six months; people who are meeting their treatment goals may need the test only twice a year.

Why is it important?
The A1C test is a good measure of how well your glucose is under control. It can also be a good tool for determining if someone with prediabetes is progressing toward or has developed type 2 diabetes. Adults over age 45 with hypertension, obesity, or a family history of diabetes also are advised to get an A1C test because they have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Finding out you have an elevated A1C is a cue to make positive changes to your lifestyle.

What do the numbers mean?

  • 5.7% or lower = normal blood glucose levels
  • 5.8–6.4% = elevated blood glucose levels (prediabetes)
  • 6.5% or higher = diabetes

What should my numbers be?
For years, people with type 2 were told to strive for an A1C of 7 percent or less, but new research indicates that one level doesn't fit all. Based on your health status, age, and risk factors, you and your health care provider should determine an A1C goal for you.

Here are the American Diabetes Association's new general guidelines:

  • Person newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes = 7% or lower
  • Person with diabetes who is not prone to hypoglycemia or problems from treatment = 6.5% or lower
  • Person with a history of severe hypoglycemia, limited life expectancy, or type 2 diabetes for many years = 8% or lower

B = Blood pressure

What is it?
Blood pressure is the force of blood flow in your blood vessels. A blood pressure test reveals two readings. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood through your blood vessels. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure when your blood vessels relax between heartbeats. People with diabetes should have their blood pressure checked at every appointment with their care provider.

Why is it important?
When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder, raising your risk for heart attack, stroke, eye problems, and kidney disease. Treating high blood pressure with diet, lifestyle changes, and medication (if needed) is important to prevent health complications.

What do the numbers mean?

  • 120/80 mmHg or lower = healthy blood pressure
  • 120/80–140/80 mmHg = early high blood pressure
  • 140/90 or higher mmHg = high blood pressure (hypertension)

What should my numbers be?
The American Diabetes Association recommends aiming for a blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg and to take medicine if your pressure equals or exceeds that level. Exercising regularly, limiting sodium to 1,500 mg per day, and eating sufficient amount of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods can help you control blood pressure.

C = Cholesterol

What is it?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance found in every cell in your body. It's a necessary component to produce hormones, cell membranes, and vitamin D, and to help your body digest fat. Cholesterol is also in foods that have animal origins, such as meat, poultry, seafood, and full-fat dairy products.

There are several types of cholesterol, two of which are important for people with diabetes to monitor. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are considered bad cholesterol and can lead to the buildup of plaque in blood vessel walls, which can cause heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are considered good cholesterol and appear to protect against heart disease.

Triglycerides are a form of fat made in the body. People who are overweight or obese, are physically inactive, smoke, or consume large amounts of alcohol or carbohydrate are more likely to have elevated levels of triglycerides, which increases risk for heart disease.

A fasting blood test to assess your lipid profile-which measures total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels-should be done once a year. Eating more fruits and vegetables as well as fiber-filled whole grains, exercising regularly, losing weight if necessary, and maintaining good blood glucose control can help improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

What should my numbers be?
It's important to know your cholesterol numbers and keep them in check. Your doctor will determine how often you should have your cholesterol levels tested and the numbers you should aim for.

According to the American Diabetes Association, these are the LDL, HDL, and triglycerides levels most people with diabetes should aim for:

  • LDL cholesterol: Lower than 100 mg/dl
  • HDL cholesterol: Higher than 40 mg/dl for men and 50 mg/dl for women is good, but HDL of 50 mg/dl or higher helps everyone lower risk for heart disease.
  • Triglycerides: Lower than 150 mg/dl
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