July 22, 2013
What Level of Glucose Control Is Best?
This is a difficult question and has many answers depending on the perspective from which you are viewing it. I am discovering this more and more among doctors specializing in diabetes, they will not commit to many rules. Most doctors will not commit to any specific goals except for the organization they believe in the most. This means 7.0% for those that follow the dogma of the American Diabetes Association and 6.5% if they follow the teachings of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The most difficult goal is to have a doctor actually do an assessment and individualize any level of A1c goal for you as an individual.
I had thought what I was hearing was a result of my age, but in talking with other diabetes patients, much seems to depend on the medication the person is taking or not taking. Most doctors seem to expect HbA1c's below 5.0% if the person is managing with a meal plan and exercise. Once a person is on medications of any type, the expected level seems to be age variable and medication variable, but generally starts above 5.5% and moves up rapidly depending on the medication. The minimum level for people over the age of 64 seems to be 6.5%, but I have heard one patient say his doctor wanted him at a minimum of 7.5%. I could understand 7.0%.
Before going further, the method of collecting my data is not scientific and is just from asking questions when I find myself in a position to do so. I can say with some confidence that hypoglycemia is the force behind the numbers in most cases and this must keep doctors up at night. The first time I got below 5.9%, the endocrinologist wanted my meter readings and insisted I bring my meter with me to all appointments. I almost had a panic on my hands at the next appointment when I was at 5.6% until they had scoured my meter readings and found no reading below 76 mg/dl. I was, because I was short of 68 years of age, given a stern warning to bring my blood glucose level back over 6.0% and closer to 6.5%. Now they want it to be over 6.5% and I will continue to rebel.
Several of the support group on insulin have been maintaining their A1c's below 6.0% and being lectured about their levels. Allen had a recent A1c of 5.4% with no hypoglycemia episodes and only one reading below 80 at 79 mg/dl. Yet, he is the eldest of our support group and says he was read the riot act and told to raise his A1c. When he asked what was wrong with his readings and A1c, they could not tell him and he just said it will be what it is.
As a support group, we have concluded that hypoglycemia is what drives the concerns of doctors and they are very concerned to the point of being fearful of anything smelling like hypoglycemia. Our youngest support group member is the person that has been off medications the longest and as Sue says, her A1c of 5.2% only earned her a congratulation and keep up the good work. We now have three more members, Sue's husband, A.J., and John that have become medication free in the last two months.
Age seems to be a factor and while there is concern for people below 65 years of age, they are not lectured as hard unless they have several episodes of hypoglycemia. Therefore, I will not state that any one level of A1c is better than another. Each person needs to analyze their meter readings and decide what level they wish to achieve. Even I would be remiss in saying that if you have many episodes of severe hypoglycemia, the higher your A1c should probably be.
I hope this answers a few of the questions I have received lately. While I answered the emails individually, I felt this was a topic for a blog. I have enjoyed the questions asked and hope that I have answered them to your satisfaction. One person has thanked me for my answer and is asking more questions which I have enjoyed answering as he is looking for answers that are specific to him. He wants to see what he is capable of and realizes that even though he is receiving A1c's under 6.0, he is fighting very hard to prevent hypoglycemia and therefore realizes he has to be extremely careful. I have suggested that he discuss this with his endocrinologist and discuss maybe adjusting the insulin to carbohydrate ratio and possibly his correction ratio.
Another good read on A1c's is by Tom Ross, here.