Common blood test for diabetes not reliable for children

5 March 2011

A blood glucose test commonly used to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes is not a reliable indicator when used with children, according to a study by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The hemoglobin A1c test has become the preferred way to diagnose diabetes among the millions of Americans who have diabetes but show no symptoms. The simple test measures longer-term blood sugar levels without requiring patients to fast overnight.

In 2010, the American Diabetes Association released guidelines recommending HbA1c be exclusively used for diagnosing diabetes in children and adults. But the researchers of the new study say more work is needed before doctors can safely rely on using hemoglobin A1c for children.

Lead author Joyce M Lee, a pediatric endocrinologist at Mott Children’s Hospital, said, “We found that hemoglobin A1c is not as reliable a test for identifying children with diabetes and pre-diabetes compared with adults. Using this test in children may lead to missed cases.”

The study was published online ahead of print in the Journal of Pediatrics [1] and provides new insight on effectively diagnosing diabetes in children.

For the study, the researchers evaluated the testing results of 1,156 obese and overweight adolescents, ages 12-18. The ADA recommends screening only obese and overweight kids because their weight puts them at higher risk for developing diabetes.

According to the guidelines, individuals without symptoms would be classified as having diabetes if HbA1c values reach 6.5% and as having pre-diabetes if HbA1c values reached between 6 and 6.4% on two separate tests. The authors suggest that the cut-off point may need to be lower for kids.

Until more definitive studies are available, it’s premature to use HbA1c for children, authors say. Others tests such as the fasting plasma glucose and two-hour plasma glucose measurements have long been relied on by doctors to diagnose diabetes among adults and children, but, as HbA1c emerged, they were expected to be phased out of use.

Mott pediatricians say they still play an important role in diabetes care.

“Based on the study findings, a fasting blood glucose test should still be used for diagnosing diabetes in children,” says Lee, a member of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit in the University of Michigan Division of General Pediatrics.


1. Joyce M. Lee, Beth Tarini, William H. Herman, Esther Yoon. Diagnosis of diabetes using Hemogloblin A1c: Should recommendations in adults be extrapolated to adolescents? Journal of Pediatrics. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.11.026. Published online 3 January 2011


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