As your blood sugar level goes up, so does your risk of death and heart disease - even if you don't have diabetes.
The news comes from two extraordinary studies appearing in the Sept. 21 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Both focus on a test called hemoglobin A1c -- HbA1c -- which measures average blood sugar levels over the past three months. Normal HbA1c levels range from 4% to 6%.
High HbA1c is known to be a marker for blindness, kidney disease, and nerve damage in people with diabetes. Now it also predicts heart disease in people with diabetes, report Johns Hopkins researcher Elizabeth Selvin, MPH, and colleagues.
That's a major finding, if not a major surprise. The shock comes in a British study that looked at HbA1c levels in people with and without diabetes. Regardless of whether a person had diabetes, the study shows that every 1% increase in HbA1c ups the risk of death -- from all causes -- by 24% for men and 28% for women. Nearly three-fourths of the deaths in the study came in people with "moderately elevated" HbA1c levels: between 5% and 6.9%.
"These are important studies because they show we should be concerned about blood glucose elevations even in people who do not have diabetes," Laurence S. Sperling, MD, director of the Emory Heart Center risk reduction program, tells WebMD.
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