Implications of using hemoglobin A1C for diagnosing diabetes mellitus

Am J Med. 2011 May;124(5):395-401. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.11.025.


Until 2010, the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus was based solely on glucose concentration, but the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommendations now include a new criterion: hemoglobin A1C ≥6.5%. Because this change may have significant implications for diabetes diagnosis, we conducted a comprehensive literature review including peer-reviewed articles not referenced in the ADA report. We conclude that A1C and plasma glucose tests are frequently discordant for diagnosing diabetes. A1C ≥6.5% identifies fewer individuals as having diabetes than glucose-based criteria. Convenience of A1C test might increase the number of patients diagnosed, but this is unproven. Diagnostic cut-points for both glucose and A1C are based on consensus judgments regarding optimal sensitivity and specificity for the complications of hyperglycemia. A1C may not accurately reflect levels of glycemia in some situations, but in comparison with glucose measurements, it has greater analytic stability and less temporal variability. When choosing a diagnostic test for diabetes, the limitations of each choice must be understood. Clinical judgment and consideration of patient preference are required to appropriately select among the diagnostic alternatives.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Complications / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus / blood*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / diagnosis*
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A