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Hemoglobin and Diabetes


Updated June 24, 2014

Hemoglobin and Diabetes

Red blood cells carry hemoglobin

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Hemoglobin and Diabetes:

What is hemoglobin?

Hemoglobin is a protein molecule in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body. Nearly all of the oxygen in your blood is carried on hemoglobin, so it is vitally important.

How is hemoglobin used to test diabetes?

When you eat, your body pulls the glucose or sugar from those foods and uses it for energy. It eventually ends up in your bloodstream so that it can be carried to all parts of your body. Some of the sugar that ends up in your bloodstream attaches to the hemoglobin on your red blood cells and stays there for up to three months. If you have elevated levels of sugar in your blood, as many people with diabetes do, then more of that sugar will attach to your red blood cells. The higher the concentration of sugar in your blood, the more sugar attaches to your red blood cells.

Consequences of high blood sugar

Studies have conclusively shown that elevated glucose over a long period of time puts a person with diabetes at higher risk for many health problems that involve the:

  • heart
  • eyes
  • Kidneys
  • Feet
  • Nerves
  • Blood vessels

A1c Test

Daily blood glucose testing is critically important in the overall management of diabetes. But, these tests give only a snapshot of the level of glucose in the bloodstream at the time of the test. One hour later, the result may be different. A test called hemoglobin A1c gives a longer view of glucose levels by measuring how much glucose has attached to hemoglobin over the life of the red blood cell, which is about three months. It is considered the gold standard test to understand longer-term glucose levels in the blood and is recommended by the American Diabetes Association.


National Center for Biotechnology Information. Type 1 Diabetes.

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