Using A1C Home Test Kits for Diabetes

How They Work, Results, and Options

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A1C home test kits allow people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes to check their own hemoglobin A1C—a measure of how well their condition has been controlled over the previous two to three months. A hemoglobin A1C test measures the percentage of hemoglobin bound to glucose, which is an average reflection of how much sugar has been circulating in the bloodstream. Home A1C tests do not take the place of daily glucose testing.

How They Work

Hemoglobin A1C tests provide a reliable picture of average blood sugar over the two to three months preceding the test. Excess blood glucose can bind to hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells), and a high percentage of hemoglobin bound to glucose means that you have had high glucose levels. In contrast, a low percentage of hemoglobin bound to glucose means that you have had a low or normal glucose level. Red blood cells are replenished every few months, so hemoglobin A1C only reflects glucose levels for the lifespan of these cells.

Approximately 50% of your A1C result comes from the past 30 days of glucose levels, while approximately 25% comes from the past 30 to 60 days, and another 25% comes from the past 60 to 90 days, meaning your glucose levels from the most recent 30 days will factor in the most.

Because daily glucose testing measures your blood sugar on the spot, both daily monitoring and A1C tests are needed for effective management of diabetes.

When to Use a Home Test

A home test kit may be helpful in the following circumstances:

  • You may only be required to get your A1C checked every six months, but want to get a quick read of your average blood sugar levels at the three-month mark.
  • Your care provider has asked that you get your A1C tested every three months, but you can't complete the lab work in that timeframe due to financial or scheduling circumstances.
  • You have had difficulty keeping your glucose levels under control and want to hold yourself accountable by testing at home.
  • You have pre-diabetes or a family history of diabetes and choose to self-monitor
  • You have anxiety about going to a lab and feel more comfortable testing in your home.

Remember that A1C tests should only be used every two to three months, as that is the approximate lifespan of red blood cells. Hemoglobin A1C tests can only reflect the glucose levels for that time period—otherwise, checking more frequently won't show any major changes. Use your daily glucose monitor for more regular testing.

How to Choose a Kit

There are several FDA-approved home A1C test kits, and they are available at many pharmacies and online retailers. Some health insurance plans cover the cost, which can run between $50 to $150. Accessories for the test, such as replacement strips, are sold as well, so be sure to check that you have all of the necessary parts. A very inexpensive box might contain only a few replacement accessories rather than the whole testing kit.

Buy your device from a reputable brand, and make sure the packaging is sealed before first use.

Currently approved brands include:

  • Polymer Technology Systems
  • CVS At Home A1C Test Kit
  • ReliOn Fast A1C Test
  • Walgreens At Home A1C Test Kit
  • BIO-RAD System Analyzer Prescription Home Use
  • Bayer A1C Now SelfCheck
  • Osborn Group Hemocheck-A1C Sample Collection Kit
  • Flexsite Diagnostics, EZCheck HGB A1C Blood Collection Kit
  • HemoCue Hb 801 System

How to Use an A1C Home Test Kit

Instructions for A1C home test kits are user-friendly. You can do the test yourself at home or you can help your child or another family member without the assistance of a medical professional.

What You Need to Use an A1C Home Test

  • Soap and water (or an alcohol prep pad if you don't have access to a sink)
  • A notebook to record results

What's Included in an A1C Home Test

  • A1C Analyzer
  • Lancet
  • Blood collector
  • Shaker tube
  • Test cartridge
  • Testing instructions from the manufacturer

A1C Home Test Usage Instructions

A few helpful tips to remember: You can take the test at any time of day, and you don't need to follow a special diet or fast beforehand. Keep your device and testing supplies at a stable temperature, away from extreme heat or cold. To get the most accurate result, complete the test from start to finish within 15 minutes. You may want to do the A1C test at the same time you do a glucometer test. The A1C test requires a drop of blood that is only slightly larger than the amount of blood used for a glucose meter.

Some kits can provide a reading of your A1C number in five minutes. If you are using a kit that requires sending your sample to a lab, follow the mailing instructions provided with the kit. You can expect to receive your result by mail or online in three to 10 days.

While A1C testing kits may vary, the following instructions are general guidelines for a testing kit that provides results at home.

  1. Set out your testing equipment, including the A1C analyzer, lancet, shaker, blood collector, and test cartridge.
  2. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them well, or clean them with the alcohol prep pad and allow the alcohol to evaporate.
  3. Open the lancet and press it into the tip of your finger along the side (pricking the pad can hurt more). Squeeze out a small drop of blood.
  4. Hold the blood collector up to the drop of blood and allow it to fill the tip of the blood collector. Be sure that the blood collector is adequately filled (follow the manufacturer's instructions here).
  5. Fully insert the blood collector into the body of the shaker, then shake the shaker vigorously about 6 to 8 times (approximately 5 seconds), to mix the blood with the testing solution.
  6. Open the testing cartridge and insert it into the A1C analyzer. Remove the base of the shaker and press it into the analyzer where indicated to dispense the solution, then remove it. Wait 5 minutes for your results—try not to touch the device during this time.
  7. Log your result in your notebook, being sure to mark the date.
  8. Dispose of the test cartridge but save the analyzer device for future testing.

Wash your hands and warm them before use. Clean hands ensure a clean sample, and warmer hands will encourage blood flow.

Results

A1C test results are presented as a percentage, which signifies the percentage of hemoglobin in your red blood cells that have glucose attached.

According to the National Institutes of Health, standard A1C reference ranges are listed as follows:

  • Normal (no diabetes): below 5.7%
  • Borderline/prediabetes: 5.7% to 6.4%
  • Diabetes: 6.5% or above

Home A1C tests are not approved for the diagnosis of diabetes. They are only approved for the monitoring of prediabetes or diabetes if you have already been diagnosed.

If your at-home A1C test provides you with a result at 5.7% or higher, be sure to note your exact reading and make an appointment with your physician. Having an A1C between 5.7% and 6.4% generally means that you fall into the prediabetes category, and have an increased risk of developing diabetes. Ask your doctor about blood sugar management tips, ways to monitor your glucose levels, and lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, sleep, and stress relief techniques that can help you take an active role in diabetes prevention.

Type 2 Diabetes Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

A level above 6.5% or higher is generally considered to be a reflection of diabetes that is not optimally controlled. However, your doctor might set a different target for you depending on what your A1C has been in the past. Your results should always be reviewed with your physician, who may use those results to assess how well your current therapy is working.

Accuracy

Home A1C tests have been found to be reliable, with over 90% correlation with A1C tests done at a lab.

However, the results of a home A1C test should not be used to make major medical decisions on your own—they should always be used in conjunction with standard medical care. Keep a log of your home testing dates and results, and share it with your doctor.

There are several factors that may affect the accuracy of home A1C tests, so discuss this with your doctor to know whether they're appropriate for you. A1C results are affected by pregnancy, rheumatoid factor, and blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease, anemia, transfusion, and blood loss.

A Word From Verywell

The American Diabetes Association recommends A1C testing twice a year if you're meeting your treatment goals and your blood glucose levels are stable, or four times a year if you're having problems managing your blood sugar.

Easy-to-use home testing for many medical conditions is becoming widely available. If you have diabetes, home A1C testing can be practical, helping you and your doctor get a strong grasp of how well your blood sugar is being managed. However, if you are not comfortable with at-home tests, don't want to check your own blood, or if you find that the instructions are complicated, you can absolutely tell your doctor that you prefer to have your A1C checked at a lab instead.

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Article Sources
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