Clinicians have sought a better diabetes diagnostic tool than the oral glucose tolerance test, which measures the body's response to a large dose of glucose after fasting. Among that method's weaknesses is the need to average several test results over time for a valid diagnosis. Each glucose tolerance test is only a snapshot in time of how well the body is processing glucose into energy.
The hemoglobin A1c measures how much glucose is attached to the hemoglobin proteins in red blood cells, reflecting blood sugar levels over the 2- to 3-month lifespan of a red blood cell.
Marit Eika Jorgensen and colleagues, at the Steno Diabetes Center and the National Institute of Public Health in Copenhagen, wanted to see if ethnicity influenced results of the two blood tests. They compared results from both in three groups of people: 1,173 Inuits from Greenland, 256 Inuit migrants living in Denmark, and 6,784 Danes.
The researchers also measured baseline fasting blood glucose levels and found that at all levels of blood glucose the "Inuit had significantly higher levels of HbA1c than the Danish participants," leading to more diagnoses of diabetes in the Inuit population.
Among Greenland Inuits, the prevalence of diabetes, as determined by the hemoglobin A1c test (31.7 percent) was nearly three times higher than when diagnosed using the oral glucose tolerance test (11.2 percent). Comparing the two tests saw a more than doubling of diabetes for Inuits living in Denmark: 21.3 percent using the A1c test vs. 9.8 percent with the glucose tolerance test.
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