Saturday, November 14, 2009
In my last post I mentioned that my HbA1c number (aka glycated hemoglobin) had gone over the "magic number" of 7, indicating that my blood sugar has been too high over the past three months. My blog friend, Barbara, mentioned that she didn't know how to convert the numbers, so I thought I'd explain it a little and show you how the number corresponds to blood sugar control.
When your blood sugar is at normal levels, your blood is thin and watery like skim milk and moves easily through your veins. When your blood sugar is high, your blood thickens from the sugar and becomes more the consistency of corn syrup, thick and sluggish. This thickened blood has a harder time reaching the parts of your body that have smaller blood vessels, such as your eyes and kidneys. This syrupy buildup is like a candy coating that sticks to your red blood cells. Your red blood cells have a lifespan of about 120 days, and once they have that candy coating on them, they stay that way. So the HbA1c, done every 3-6 months, tests your red blood cells to see how much candy coating is on them, giving an average of your blood sugar levels over the past three months.
The HbA1c number is actually a percentage rather than a blood sugar reading. The percentages correspond to your blood sugar levels. The test I had done in July, for example, was 6.8%, which corresponds to an average level of 148. My latest one, taken in late October, was 7.4%, corresponding to an average blood sugar level of 166. Here's a conversion table, if you're interested. You can see that my blood sugar has been going up over the past 6 months, which alerts my doctor that something is not right: I need to have more medicine, more exercise, to eat better, or a combination of the three. In my case, I know that I have been taking my medicine faithfully, but not exercising at all and not eating well. So my doctor told me to tighten up my eating, continue exercising every day for a month, then repeat the test. If the percentage goes down, he'll know that we're on the right track; if not, he'll have to intervene, probably with more medication.
If my blood sugar were allowed to stay high, the blood will have a hard time reaching my eyes, kidneys, and extremities, causing them to be damaged. My mother, who had type 1 diabetes, had kidney failure caused by her high blood sugars over years of time. She was also going blind. Some people lose toes or fingers from poor circulation caused by high blood sugar. So you can see why the HbA1c test is so valuable in monitoring diabetes and preventing complications.
I like to be sweet, but here lately I'm a bit too sweet for my own good! ;) I've exercised every day this week, and my daily blood sugar readings are in a better range. I think my A1c will come down over the month. My goal for the month is to get some form of exercise every day, even if it's just a quick walk around the block. Today I walked to the post office, bank, and grocery store instead of driving. I went to the gym a few days and used the elliptical trainer at home a couple of days. The important thing is simply getting some exercise!