Keeping Diabetes in Check - Know Your Blood Sugar Numbers

Taking control of your diabetes can help you feel better and stay healthy. Keeping blood sugar close to normal reduces your chances of having heart, eye, kidney and nerve problems that can be caused by diabetes. To control your diabetes, you need to know your blood glucose numbers and your target goals.

There are two different tests to measure your blood glucose.

  1. The A1C (pronounced A-one-C) test
  2. The blood glucose test you do yourself – also called self-monitoring of blood glucose (SMBG)

You and your health care team need to use both the A1C and SMBG tests to get a complete picture of your blood glucose control.

What is the A1C test?

The A1C test is a simple lab test that measures average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months. A small blood sample to check your A1C can be taken at any time of the day.

Why should I have an A1C test?

The A1C test is the best test for you and your doctor or health care provider to know how well your treatment plan is working over time. The test shows if your blood glucose levels have been close to normal or too high. The higher the amount of glucose in your blood, the higher your A1C result will be. A high A1C test result will increase your chances for health problems.

What is a good A1C goal?

You and your doctor or health care provider should discuss an A1C goal that is right for you. For most people with diabetes, the A1C goal is less than 7. An A1C higher than 7 means that you have a greater chance of eye disease, kidney disease, heart disease, or nerve damage. Lowering your A1C by any amount can improve your chances of staying healthy.

If your number is 7 or more, or above your A1C goal, ask your doctor or health care provider about changing your treatment plan to bring your A1C number down.

Level of control A1C number
Normal 6 or less
Goal Less than 7
Take Action 7 or more

How often do I need an A1C test?

Ask for an A1C test at least twice a year. Get the test more often if your blood glucose stays too high or if your treatment plan changes.

Why should I check my blood glucose?

Self monitoring of blood glucose, or SMBG, with a meter helps you see how food, physical activity, and medicine affect your blood glucose levels. The readings you get can help you manage your diabetes day by day or even hour by hour. Keep a record of your test results and review it at each visit with your doctor or health care provider.

How do I test my own blood glucose?

To do SMBG, you use a tiny drop of blood and a meter to measure your blood glucose level. Ask your doctor or health care provider to show you how to use the meter. Also, ask whether your meter gives the results as plasma or whole blood glucose. Most new meters provide the results as plasma glucose.

What is a good self-testing blood glucose goal?

Set your goals with your doctor or health care provider. Blood and plasma glucose goals for most people with diabetes are on these charts.

  Plasma Values (used
by most meters)
Whole Blood Values
Before meals 90-130 80-120
After meals Less than 180 Less than 170

How often should I check my blood glucose?

Self-tests are usually done before meals, after meals, and/or at bedtime. People who take insulin usually need to test more often than those who do not take insulin. Ask your doctor or health care provider when and how often you need to check your blood glucose.

If I test my own blood glucose, do I still need the A1C test?

Yes. The results of both SMBG and A1C tests help you and your health care team to manage your diabetes and get a complete picture of your diabetes control.

Does my insurance pay for the A1C test, self-testing supplies, and education?

Most states, including NYS, have passed laws that require insurance coverage of SMBG supplies and diabetes education. Check your coverage with your insurance plan. Medicare and NYS Medicaid cover most or all of the cost of diabetes test strips, lancets (needles used to get a drop of blood), and blood glucose meters for people who have diabetes. Ask your doctor or health care provider for details about Medicare's coverage of the A1C test, diabetes supplies, diabetes education, and nutrition counseling. For more information, visit the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov .

How do blood glucose self-testing results compare with A1C test results?

Here is a chart from the American Diabetes Association to show you how your blood glucose testing results are likely to match up with your A1C results. As the chart shows, the higher your self-testing numbers are over a 3-month period, the higher your A1C result is going to be.

A1C level Average self-test glucose
numbers (plasma)
12 345
11 310
10 275
9 240
8 205
7 170
6 135
Return to top