The A1C Test and its Role in Emergency Medicine.

Hemoglobin A1c test and emergency medicine


The A1c Test and its Role in the Assessment of Diabetic Emergency Patients

The Hemoglobin A1c (also called HbA1c or A1c) measures the amount of glycated hemoglobin (hemoglobin with attached glucose) in the blood and is strongly correlated with the average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months.

It acts as a proxy measurement of the patient’s overall control of their blood glucose levels for the previous 3 months. 

Because the glucose level can fluctuate over hours and days, the A1c is useful to give us a better picture of the long term status. The A1c can be a valuable tool to help manage patients with diabetes-related emergencies.

What is the A1c?


  1. What Is the A1C Test?
    • The A1C test ( also known as hemoglobin A1c or glycated hemoglobin), measures the percentage of hemoglobin bound to glucose.
    • This measurement gives us an indication of the average blood glucose levels over the past 2 to 3 months.
    • Unlike fingerstick glucose tests, which provide a momentary snapshot of current blood sugar, the A1C test offers a longer-term perspective.
  2. Predictive Power:
    • The A1C level is highly predictive of  the risk of developing diabetes.
    • In emergency room settings, identifying patients at risk allows for early intervention and preventive measures.
  3. Monitoring Long-Term Glycemic Control:
    • Patients with known diabetes will use the A1C test as a gauge of overall blood sugar management.
    • Elevated A1C levels indicate poor glycemic control and an increased risk of sequelae.


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The A1c and Diabetic Emergencies

The A1c is by no means a first-line assessment tool in diabetic emergencies but it can have a role in the management and planning of treatment.

  1. Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA):
    • DKA is a potentially life-threatening complication of uncontrolled diabetes.
    • It is charachterized by elevated blood glucose, ketosis, and metabolic acidosis. 
    • The A1C can be employed to differentiate between new-onset diabetes and a patient with chronic hyperglycemia.
  2. Hyperglycemic Hyperosmolar State (HHS):
    • HHS, although it is less common, has a higher mortality rate.
    • It is most often seen in older adults with type 2 diabetes.
    • The A1C level aids in risk stratification and can guide decisions about the course of treatment.


Other Considerations


Patient Education:

  • One of the most important uses of the A1C values is as a teaching tool.
  • An explanation of the significance of the A1c and the importance of long-term glycemic control should be given to patients to encourage adherence to treatment plans.

Communication with Primary Care Providers:

  • A1C results should be communicated to the patient’s primary care physician for follow-up.
  • Communication and collaboration with outpatient teams ensures continuity of care.


 Point-of-care A1C testing devices are increasingly available, allowing rapid assessment. The A1C test bridges the gap between acute care and long-term diabetes management.


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