A1C Hemoglobin Test at Home can help you monitor Blood Sugar

If you have diabetes, you probably already use a glucometer, which allows you to check your blood sugar at home. Just like there are at-home blood sugar testing devices, there are also at-home devices to check your hemoglobin A1C. Your hemoglobin A1C gives you and your health provider a better idea of your average blood sugar level over a two- to three- month period.

Usually, you go to a lab to check your hemoglobin A1C. So why would you want to check it at home?

There are two kinds of patients who tend to use the hemoglobin A1C at-home testing kits, says Grace Derocha, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “It’s usually patients who are really compliant and want to know every 90 days, ‘Am I still there?’” she says. These same patients may have such good diabetes numbers that they are only required to get their A1C checked every six months, so they use the monitors at the three-month mark.

On the other end of the spectrum, Derocha has recommended that some patients use the A1C test if they having trouble with blood sugar control. “I want it to be a motivator or a reminder for them,” she says.

Although certified diabetes educator Anna Simos, a diabetes education and prevention program manager at Stanford Health Care in California, supports seeing a health provider regularly for lab work and diabetes care, she has seen patients use the hemoglobin A1C tests at home when they can’t get lab work done every three months, be it for scheduling or financial reasons.

Simos also has seen patients who are not diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes but who have a family history of the disease, so they use the at-home testing kits to self-monitor. Yet one other kind of patient using these devices is someone nervous about seeing lab numbers in front of the health provider. This person would rather know their A1C number ahead of time. “The A1C is like your report card, and there’s anxiety about having to check that,” Simos explains.

Imprecise A1C Readings May Hamper Diabetes Diagnosis or Management

Experts recommend additional testing, in some cases to ensure timely detection and proper care.

Another way the handheld A1C devices are used is in some primary care clinics, says Edwin Torres, a nurse practitioner with the endocrinology department at Montefiore Health System in Bronx, New York. The device can provide an immediate picture of average blood sugar control, and that helps the health care provider give instant feedback and guidance to the patient.

The devices are easy to use; in fact, they work similar to a glucometer. “I tell people they just need a bigger drop of blood,” Derocha says.

The devices are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure accuracy. They could give slightly off results, but so can standard lab tests, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

This is where diabetes care experts share a major caution about at-home hemoglobin A1C devices: Don’t use them to make major decisions about your care on your own. Instead, use any readings you obtain to share with your health provider so he or she can advise you accordingly. Your health care provider will want to consider your A1C results along with a variety of other lab and physical findings.

“It’s a good place to start a conversation. You may say, ‘I took my A1C at home. How does my result from home compare with my lab work?’” Torres recommends.

Derocha has seen patients who get favorable A1C results and think that means they can treat themselves to extra ice cream or not take a certain medication dose. Don’t make those decisions alone. Always talk with your health care provider first.

Another caution is that hemoglobin A1C findings can be deceptive at times. In other words, you may have a great hemoglobin A1C reading, but your blood sugar has fluctuated from low to high on a day-to-day basis. So, your overall blood sugar control may not be great even if the A1C reading is favorable. “The number needs to be taken in perspective,” Torres says.

How Hemoglobin A1C and eAG Indicate Your Diabetes Control

Get a better understanding of these important diabetes numbers.

Here are some tips to maximize your use of at-home hemoglobin A1C testing kits:

Buy one from a reputable brand. The larger companies have done their homework to make their devices reliable, Simos says.

Make sure the packaging for the device is sealed before you use it. Also check that the device has not expired.

Wash and warm your hands before use. If your hands are not clean, you may get a false reading. Also, warmer hands will help your blood flow, making it easier to take a small blood sample.

Keep the device away from extreme hot or cold. Simos gives the example of buying an A1C testing kit in a place like Arizona and then keeping it in your hot car while you do other shopping. “You could fry part of the device. It’s sensitive,” Simos says. The same idea applies in extreme cold.

Read the instructions. If your instinct is to tear something open and use it right away, you’re not alone – but that’s not the best approach, Simos cautions. Take the time to read the instructions or watch any related instructional videos.

Don’t pull away when you poke yourself. You need to stay still to capture a blood sample, Derocha advises.

Share the results with your doctor or other health provider. He or she will want to consider your A1C along with high blood pressure, cholesterol and other key numbers to make important care decisions.

Use the device only every two to three months. Any more than that, and the results will not vary much, Derocha says. However, you still need to do your regular at-home glucometer checks, she adds.

Talk with your health care provider about factors that may affect your A1C readings. This could include if you have anemia or if you have just had surgery.