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3 Diabetes Numbers That Are as Important as A1C

Even if your A1C is under control, these other numbers may signal that your health is at risk.

3 Diabetes Numbers That Are as Important as A1C

Knowing your numbers are an important part of diabetes management. At the top of the list of numbers you need to know is your A1C, a blood test that shows how stable your blood glucose levels have been over the past two to three months. This number is used to set treatment goals, inform what type of treatment a person needs and determine how well a treatment plan is working. Reaching your A1C goal can help avoid complications from diabetes, such as nerve damage and eye problems that can result in vision loss.

A1C is not the only number that is important to diabetes management. Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and people with type 2 diabetes are also at an increased risk of kidney disease—a condition that can progress to kidney failure if it is not treated.

The following tests can help evaluate the health of your cardiovascular system and kidneys.

Blood pressure
Blood pressure is the force that circulating blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels. Having blood pressure that is too high is bad because it can damage the arteries and the heart. High blood pressure (called hypertension) can also damage the blood vessels in the kidneys and eyes, contributing to diabetic kidney disease and macular degeneration, two possible complications of diabetes. Ideally, your blood pressure should be below 120/80. If your blood pressure is elevated, your healthcare provider can recommend ways to lower it, which may include changes to diet and lifestyle, as well as medications.

Cholesterol and triglycerides
Put simply, cholesterols are fats (or lipids) that circulate in the blood. Your body uses cholesterols to build cell membranes and a variety of other important substances—hormones, digestive acids, vitamins. There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is called the “bad cholesterol” because elevated levels contribute to the buildup of arterial plaque. The recommended levels for men and women with diabetes are below 70mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). Many patients are treated with medications to lower cholesterol levels.
  • HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is called the “good cholesterol” because having higher levels of it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. HDL helps move LDL out of the blood. The desirable level is 40 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or higher for men and 50 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or higher for women.

Triglycerides are another type of blood fat, and levels should be below 150 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). If your cholesterol levels are not where they need to be, you may need to make additional lifestyle changes or take a medication to control your cholesterol.

Microalbuminuria test
This test checks for protein (called albumin) in the urine, and helps gauge your risk for kidney disease. Protein should stay in the bloodstream, and protein in the urine can be a sign of kidney damage. Ideally, you should have no protein in your urine and this test should be done once a year. Diabetic kidney disease may be treated with medications to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and improve kidney function.

What you can do
Communicating with your healthcare provider and staying up to date on screening tests will help spot early warning signs of serious diabetes complications, such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. In addition to the tests mentioned here, people with type 2 diabetes should see an eye doctor at least once a year and have their feet checked by a healthcare provider at every visit. Eye problems and problems with the feet (such as ulcers and loss of feeling) are possible complications of type 2 diabetes.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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