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HbA1c: the gold standard of diabetes testing

When people talk about diabetes being an epidemic they are not exaggerating. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is estimated to be around 3.5 million, representing 6% of the UK population. 

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK is estimated to be around 3.5 million, representing 6% of the UK population. This figure is steadily rising as a result of increasing weight (68.8% of adults are now classed as overweight or obese) and unhealthy diets. Worryingly, 1 in 4 people with diabetes, around 940,000, don't even know they have it.


Until recently, most diabetes tests just checked for fasting blood sugar. The limitation with this method of testing is that it only measures blood glucose at one point in time despite the fact that blood sugar levels can can change throughout the day. This means it doesn't provide a good measure of average blood sugar over a particular time period. An HbA1c test, on the other hand, gives a more accurate diabetes diagnosis.

What is HbA1c?

The term HbA1c refers to glycated haemoglobin. It occurs when haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body, joins with glucose in the blood, becoming 'glycated'. Measuring glycated haemoglobin, gives an overall picture of average blood sugar levels over a period of around 12 weeks. Not only is this test a better indicator of sugar control compared to a  blood glucose test as it is also more convenient as it does not require a fasting sample.

What to do if you get an elevated result?

A HbA1c result of anything under 42 mmol/mol is normal, 42-47 is considered prediabetic and 48 or over is diabetic. The good news is that pre-diabetes can be reversed through weight loss, exercise and a healthy diet which cuts back on sugar and refined carbohydrates. Some people have even been able to reverse diabetes through adopting a very low calorie diet (always under the supervision of a doctor). Read more about reversing pre-diabetes here.

What are the risks of uncontrolled blood sugar?

Too much glucose in the blood can cause damage to blood vessels, nerves and organs increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and blindness. and even cancer; in fact, most of the diseases of ageing are accelerated through elevated blood sugar. A high HbA1c result can also explain premature wrinkles, as a build-up of ‘advanced glycation age products’ (AGEs), the proteins or lipids that become glycated as a result of exposure to sugars, are a factor in ageing – even ageing skin.

If you are worried your lifestyle may be affecting your health or are experiencing symptoms, a simple Diabetes Check is the most effective way to test for diabetes.