Your hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) or Glycosylated Hemoglobin measures your long-term glucose levels and is used along with other markers to diagnose diabetes. Increased HbA1c in nondiabetics, apart from being a risk factor for diabetes, has also been linked with cardiac disease and elevated all-reason mortality. Find out the reasons & health issues linked with high HbA1c.
High HbA1c Reasons
Reasons mentioned here are commonly linked with high HbA1c. Consult with your clinician or another health care professional to get an accurate diagnosis. Your clinician will interpret this test, taking into account your medical history and other test results not as isolated test.
HbA1c ≥ 6.5% is a reliable indicator of diabetes .
Values over 5.6% indicate prediabetes.
In one of the Japanese study it indicates that , in non- diabetics chances of diabetes increases when baseline HbA1c increased (2). In another study, HbA1c above 5.7% is most suitable for predicting future diabetes.(3)
As per Indian data, India is the world capital for diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 9.3% of the American population is diabetic.High HbA1c levels may reveal ongoing diabetes, while slightly higher levels predict future diabetes.
2) Obesity or Overweight
Obesity is linked with impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance .
High HbA1c is linked with obesity, even in nondiabetics.
More calories intake than spent is linked with higher HbA1c.
High Body Mass Index, High Central obesity is significantly linked with higher HbA1c.(6)
4) Iron, Vitamin B12, or Folate Deficiency Anemia
The effect is dependent on the degree of anemia, as a study found that those with mild anemia did not show significant effects on HbA1c .
The administration of the deficient nutrient usually decreases the HbA1c back to normal [12, 15]. However, these nutrient deficiencies often have non-dietary causes, such as bleeding or gut disease, that decrease nutrient absorption. That’s why it’s important to work with your clinician to address all underlying health issues. Anemia due to iron, vitamin B12, or folate, deficiency can increase HbA1c levels, which go back to normal once the deficiency is corrected.
5) Chronic Disease
Research suggests there is an association between oral hygiene practice and blood glucose levels in diabetes . Individuals with better self-reported toothbrushing practices tend to have lower levels of blood glucose and HbA1c [23, 24].
An Chinese study reported that tooth brushing twice daily was associated with good diabetes control (HbA1c < 6.0%) in both male and female adults with type 2 diabetes .
HbA1c is significantly elevated with periodontal (gum) deterioration even in nondiabetics [16, 17]. Studies show that treatments that improve gum inflammatory conditions helped decrease HbA1c levels [25, 26].
H. pylori Infection
Chronic H. pylori infection was associated with high levels of HbA1c and type 2 diabetes in the elderly .
A study showed that H. pylori eradication treatment had beneficial effects on insulin resistance and favorably changed HbA1c in patients with normal glucose concentrations .
Chronic Kidney Disease
In patients with elevated blood urea due to kidney failure, there is an elevated production of carbamylated hemoglobin, which can make HbA1c results inaccurate [27, 28].People with chronic diseases and those experiencing chronic inflammation tend to have higher HbA1c levels.
6) Sleep Disorders
Both short and long sleep durations were associated with an increased HbA1c. Similarly, poor sleep quality was associated with a higher HbA1c .
The presence of sleep apnea and lower levels of oxygen in the blood were associated with higher HbA1c levels in patients with type 2 diabetes . Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or periods of shallow breathing during sleep.
Type 1 diabetes patients with moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea had a trend toward higher HbA1c .
Even in nondiabetic men with obstructive sleep apnea, high HbA1c levels were associated with a more severe disorder .Getting too little or too much sleep is linked with higher HbA1c. Diabetics with sleep apnea also tend to have higher levels.
7) Some Genetic Hemoglobin Disorders
Some genetic hemoglobin disorders can falsely increase HbA1c levels, depending on the methods that a laboratory uses for testing .
8) Some Drugs
Chronic opiate use has been reported to increase HbA1c levels, but the exact mechanism remains unknown .
In a study that compared 1.6k people with and 2.8 k people without substance abuse, HbA1c level was elevated in those with substance abuse .
The use of high-potency statins may increase HbA1c levels in people with or without diabetes . A study has shown that In people with diabetes, HbA1c increased by 0.4% after high-potency statin use .
Studies also suggest that there is an increased risk of new-onset diabetes with statin use . The effects, though, may vary by drug. HbA1c was significantly increased after 3 months in patients receiving atorvastatin, while levels remained unchanged in those receiving pitavastatin .
9) High Bilirubin Levels
An increase in bilirubin levels (hyperbilirubinemia) that often accompanies liver disease can result in falsely elevated HbA1c levels .
Heavy alcohol use can falsely increase HbA1c levels. This happens because alcohol products react with hemoglobin in the blood forming hemoglobin-acetaldehyde (HbA1-AcH), which can be mistakenly measured as HbA1c [14, 35, 36].
Health Issues of High HbA1c (Glycosylated Hb)
1) Diabetes Complications
A study showed that the incidence of impaired eye and kidney function in 451 patients with type 1 diabetes increased sharply and happened earlier on with increasing HbA1c. None of the patients developed these complications when HbA1c was below 7.6% .
High HbA1c was also associated with nerve pain. In a study of 417 diabetics, those reporting pain were more than twice as likely to have HbA1c levels > 8% (64 mmol/mol) .
Both high HbA1c levels and their variability (instability), could predict the development of kidney disease in T1DM and T2DM patients .People with diabetes and unstable or high HbA1c levels are at a greater risk of complications, such as kidney disease, eye disease, and chronic nerve pain..
2) Cognitive Impairment
Higher HbA1c was associated with poor cognitive performance in a study of over 1100 healthy middle-aged people .
Higher levels were also associated with poorer baseline episodic memory and greater episodic memory decline in 2 studies with over 5k adults [44, 45]. This association was more pronounced in women .
Memory and learning problems in 233 children and adolescents were associated with HbA1c > 8.8% (73 mmol/mol) .High levels of HbA1c have been linked with poor cognition, forgetfulness, and learning problems.
Higher levels of HbA1c have been associated with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the elderly.
In a study of over 1.3k elderly, HbA1c levels ≥6.5% were associated with a 2.8-fold increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer’s. HbA1c levels ≥7% were associated with a 5-fold increased risk of all-cause dementia and a 4.7-fold increased risk of Alzheimer’s .Higher HbA1c levels have been linked with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
4) Hardening of the Arteries (Atherosclerosis)
There is an interwoven relationship between unsatisfactory blood sugar levels, low-grade inflammation and low HDL cholesterol on the hardening of the arteries in type 2 diabetes .
In 77 adolescents with type 1 diabetes, arterial stiffness was directly related to high HbAc1 .
Arterial stiffness positively correlated with both HbA1c and duration of diabetes in 1000 subjects with diabetes and elevated blood pressure .
High HbA1c was also associated with a higher atherosclerotic burden in nondiabetic patients. In 6.5 nondiabetics, high-normal HbA1c levels were independently associated with arterial stiffness [51, 52].Both diabetics and nondiabetics with higher HbA1c values are more likely to have hardened arteries.
5) Heart Disease
HbA1c showed a direct correlation with blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL in diabetic patients. All three are risk factors for heart disease .
Chronically elevated glucose, measured by HbA1c, was also disruptive for the heart function .
However, lower HbA1c was also reported to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease in some studies. In one study of over 8.6k people, both HbA1c < 6% as well as HbA1c > 10% were independently associated with the risk of heart failure .Even slight increases in HbA1c levels can increase the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.
6) Fatty Liver
Fatty liver is associated with higher HbA1c .
In another study, the prevalence of NAFLD was significantly higher in subjects with HbA1c ≥ 6.5% .
7) Fatigue (in Diabetes)
About three-quarters of patients with type 1 diabetes suffer from persistent fatigue. Higher HbA1c was weakly associated with fatigue .
In patients with type 2 diabetes, with an HbA1c greater than 7%, fatigue was indirectly related to HbA1C. This relationship was mediated through diabetic symptoms, depression and diabetes distress .People with type 1 and 2 diabetes who have high HbA1c levels are more likely to suffer from fatigue.
8) Anxiety and Depression (in Diabetes)
In over 800 diabetics, depressed mood, sleeping difficulties, appetite problems, and suicidal ideation correlate with higher baseline HbA1c levels and higher HbA1c values at 1-year follow-up. These associations were more pronounced in type 1 diabetes than in type 2 diabetes patients .
High levels of HbA1c (HbA1c≥9.0%) were associated with a greater risk of anxiety and depression in a study of 491 African diabetic men .Diabetics with higher HbA1c levels are at an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
9) Bone Loss (in Diabetics)
Bone loss is a complication of diabetes characterized by osteoporosis, increased risk for bone fractures and alterations in bone metabolism .
Osteocalcin (OC) is a bone-specific protein produced by bone cells, involved in the regulation of glucose and energy metabolism . This is a bone-building protein and correlates well with a person’s bone mineral density (BMD). In type 1 diabetes of long duration, lower osteocalcin in the blood was associated with higher HbA1c .
Similarly, in type 2 diabetic patients, lower bone mineral density was associated with higher HbA1c .
Also, higher bone resorption was independently associated with higher HbA1c in women .Higher HbA1c levels are linked with bone loss, which is especially dangerous for people with diabetes.
10) Hearing Loss
High HbA1c was associated with increased hearing loss in a study of 7.5 nondiabetics .
11) Irregular Menstrual Cycles
In one study, girls with type 1 diabetes and HbA1c levels of 7.6 – 8.9% had increased cycle duration, menstrual cycle variability, and infrequent periods (oligomenorrhea). For each point of increase in HbA1c, the menstrual cycle duration increased by 5.1 days .Girls with type 1 diabetes and high HbA1c levels are more likely to experience irregular or long menstrual cycles.
Studies report that higher HbA1c levels are associated with higher incidence and/or mortality risk of cancers. In a systematic review of 19 studies, elevated HbA1c levels were associated with a higher risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic, respiratory and female genital tract cancers .
In a study of over 300 people with colorectal cancer those with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, with HbA1c > 7.5, had more advanced colorectal cancer, a younger age of onset and poorer 5-year survival. Additionally, in patients with type 2 diabetes who have colorectal cancer, unsatisfactory blood sugar levels are associated with a clinically more aggressive course of the disease .According to some studies, both diabetics and nondiabetics with high HbA1c are at an increased risk of cancer. High levels might also predict worse cancer outcomes.