Medical Definition of Glycosylated hemoglobin

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Glycosylated hemoglobin: Hemoglobin to which glucose is bound. Glycosylated hemoglobin is tested to monitor the long-term control of diabetes mellitus.

The level of glycosylated hemoglobin is increased in the red blood cells of persons with poorly controlled diabetes mellitus. Since the glucose stays attached to hemoglobin for the life of the red blood cell (normally about 120 days), the level of glycosylated hemoglobin reflects the average blood glucose level over the past 3 months.

The normal level for glycosylated hemoglobin is less than 7%. Diabetics rarely achieve such levels, but tight control aims to come close to it. Levels above 9% show poor control, and levels above 12% show very poor control. It is commonly recommended that glycosylated hemoglobin be measured every 3 to 6 months in diabetes.

The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT) showed that diabetics who keep their glycosylated hemoglobin levels close to 7% have a much better chance of delaying or preventing diabetes complications that affect the eyes, kidneys, and nerves than people with levels 8% or higher. A change in treatment is almost always needed if the level is over 8%. Lowering the level of glycosylated hemoglobin by any amount improves a person's chances of staying healthy.

Glycosylated hemoglobin is also known as glycohemoglobin or as hemoglobin A1C (the main fraction of glycosylated hemoglobin).

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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