For decades, the diagnosis of diabetes has been based on glucose criteria, either the FPG or the 75-g OGTT. In 1997, the first Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus revised the diagnostic criteria, using the observed association between FPG levels and presence of retinopathy as the key factor with which to identify threshold glucose level. The Committee examined data from three cross-sectional epidemiologic studies that assessed retinopathy with fundus photography or direct ophthalmoscopy and measured glycemia as FPG, 2-h PG, and A1C. These studies demonstrated glycemic levels below which there was little prevalent retinopathy and above which the prevalence of retinopathy increased in an apparently linear fashion. The deciles of the three measures at which retinopathy began to increase were the same for each measure within each population. Moreover, the glycemic values above which retinopathy increased were similar among the populations. These analyses helped to inform a new diagnostic cut point of ≥126 mg/dl (7.0 mmol/l) for FPG and confirmed the long-standing diagnostic 2-h PG value of ≥200 mg/dl (11.1 mmol/l).
A1C is a widely used marker of chronic glycemia, reflecting average blood glucose levels over a 2- to 3-month period of time. The test plays a critical role in the management of the patient with diabetes, since it correlates well with both microvascular and, to a lesser extent, macrovascular complications and is widely used as the standard biomarker for the adequacy of glycemic management. Prior Expert Committees have not recommended use of the A1C for diagnosis of diabetes, in part due to lack of standardization of the assay. However, A1C assays are now highly standardized so that their results can be uniformly applied both temporally and across populations. In their recent report (3
), an International Expert Committee, after an extensive review of both established and emerging epidemiological evidence, recommended the use of the A1C test to diagnose diabetes, with a threshold of ≥6.5%, and ADA affirms this decision. The diagnostic A1C cut point of 6.5% is associated with an inflection point for retinopathy prevalence, as are the diagnostic thresholds for FPG and 2-h PG (3
). The diagnostic test should be performed using a method that is certified by the National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program (NGSP) and standardized or traceable to the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial reference assay. Point-of-care A1C assays are not sufficiently accurate at this time to use for diagnostic purposes.
There is an inherent logic to using a more chronic versus an acute marker of dysglycemia, particularly since the A1C is already widely familiar to clinicians as a marker of glycemic control. Moreover, the A1C has several advantages to the FPG, including greater convenience, since fasting is not required, evidence to suggest greater preanalytical stability, and less day-to-day perturbations during periods of stress and illness. These advantages, however, must be balanced by greater cost, the limited availability of A1C testing in certain regions of the developing world, and the incomplete correlation between A1C and average glucose in certain individuals. In addition, the A1C can be misleading in patients with certain forms of anemia and hemoglobinopathies, which may also have unique ethnic or geographic distributions. For patients with a hemoglobinopathy but normal red cell turnover, such as sickle cell trait, an A1C assay without interference from abnormal hemoglobins should be used (an updated list is available at www.ngsp.org/prog/index3.html
). For conditions with abnormal red cell turnover, such as anemias from hemolysis and iron deficiency, the diagnosis of diabetes must employ glucose criteria exclusively.
The established glucose criteria for the diagnosis of diabetes remain valid. These include the FPG and 2-h PG. Additionally, patients with severe hyperglycemia such as those who present with severe classic hyperglycemic symptoms or hyperglycemic crisis can continue to be diagnosed when a random (or casual) plasma glucose of ≥200 mg/dl (11.1 mmol/l) is found. It is likely that in such cases the health care professional would also measure an A1C test as part of the initial assessment of the severity of the diabetes and that it would (in most cases) be above the diagnostic cut point for diabetes. However, in rapidly evolving diabetes, such as the development of type 1 diabetes in some children, A1C may not be significantly elevated despite frank diabetes.
Just as there is less than 100% concordance between the FPG and 2-h PG tests, there is not full concordance between A1C and either glucose-based test. Analyses of NHANES data indicate that, assuming universal screening of the undiagnosed, the A1C cut point of ≥6.5% identifies one-third fewer cases of undiagnosed diabetes than a fasting glucose cut point of ≥126 mg/dl (7.0 mmol/l) (cdc website tbd). However, in practice, a large portion of the population with type 2 diabetes remains unaware of their condition. Thus, it is conceivable that the lower sensitivity of A1C at the designated cut point will be offset by the test's greater practicality, and that wider application of a more convenient test (A1C) may actually increase the number of diagnoses made.
Further research is needed to better characterize those patients whose glycemic status might be categorized differently by two different tests (e.g., FPG and A1C), obtained in close temporal approximation. Such discordance may arise from measurement variability, change over time, or because A1C, FPG, and postchallenge glucose each measure different physiological processes. In the setting of an elevated A1C but “nondiabetic” FPG, the likelihood of greater postprandial glucose levels or increased glycation rates for a given degree of hyperglycemia may be present. In the opposite scenario (high FPG yet A1C below the diabetes cut point), augmented hepatic glucose production or reduced glycation rates may be present.
As with most diagnostic tests, a test result diagnostic of diabetes should be repeated to rule out laboratory error, unless the diagnosis is clear on clinical grounds, such as a patient with classic symptoms of hyperglycemia or hyperglycemic crisis. It is preferable that the same test be repeated for confirmation, since there will be a greater likelihood of concurrence in this case. For example, if the A1C is 7.0% and a repeat result is 6.8%, the diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed. However, there are scenarios in which results of two different tests (e.g., FPG and A1C) are available for the same patient. In this situation, if the two different tests are both above the diagnostic thresholds, the diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed.
On the other hand, when two different tests are available in an individual and the results are discordant, the test whose result is above the diagnostic cut point should be repeated, and the diagnosis is made on the basis of the confirmed test. That is, if a patient meets the diabetes criterion of the A1C (two results ≥6.5%) but not the FPG (<126 mg/dl or 7.0 mmol/l), or vice versa, that person should be considered to have diabetes. Admittedly, in most circumstance the “nondiabetic” test is likely to be in a range very close to the threshold that defines diabetes.
Since there is preanalytic and analytic variability of all the tests, it is also possible that when a test whose result was above the diagnostic threshold is repeated, the second value will be below the diagnostic cut point. This is least likely for A1C, somewhat more likely for FPG, and most likely for the 2-h PG. Barring a laboratory error, such patients are likely to have test results near the margins of the threshold for a diagnosis. The healthcare professional might opt to follow the patient closely and repeat the testing in 3–6 months.
The decision about which test to use to assess a specific patient for diabetes should be at the discretion of the health care professional, taking into account the availability and practicality of testing an individual patient or groups of patients. Perhaps more important than which diagnostic test is used, is that the testing for diabetes be performed when indicated. There is discouraging evidence indicating that many at-risk patients still do not receive adequate testing and counseling for this increasingly common disease, or for its frequently accompanying cardiovascular risk factors. The current diagnostic criteria for diabetes are summarized in .
Diagnosis of gestational diabetes
GDM carries risks for the mother and neonate. The Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes (HAPO) study (11
), a large-scale (~25,000 pregnant women) multinational epidemiologic study, demonstrated that risk of adverse maternal, fetal, and neonatal outcomes continuously increased as a function of maternal glycemia at 24-28 weeks, even within ranges previously considered normal for pregnancy. For most complications, there was no threshold for risk. These results have led to careful reconsideration of the diagnostic criteria for GDM. After deliberations in 2008-2009, the IADPSG, an international consensus group with representatives from multiple obstetrical and diabetes organizations, including ADA, developed revised recommendations for diagnosing GDM. The group recommended that all women not known to have diabetes undergo a 75-g OGTT at 24-28 weeks of gestation. Additionally, the group developed diagnostic cutpoints for the fasting, 1-h, and 2-h plasma glucose measurements that conveyed an odds ratio for adverse outcomes of at least 1.75 compared with women with mean glucose levels in the HAPO study. Current screening and diagnostic strategies, based on the IADPSG statement (12
), are outlined in .
Screening for and diagnosis of GDM
These new criteria will significantly increase the prevalence of GDM, primarily because only one abnormal value, not two, is sufficient to make the diagnosis. The ADA recognizes the anticipated significant increase in the incidence of GDM to be diagnosed by these criteria and is sensitive to concerns about the “medicalization” of pregnancies previously categorized as normal. These diagnostic criteria changes are being made in the context of worrisome worldwide increases in obesity and diabetes rates, with the intent of optimizing gestational outcomes for women and their babies.
Admittedly, there are few data from randomized clinical trials regarding therapeutic interventions in women who will now be diagnosed with GDM based on only one blood glucose value above the specified cutpoints (in contrast to the older criteria that stipulated at least two abnormal values). Expected benefits to their pregnancies and offspring is inferred from intervention trials that focused on women with more mild hyperglycemia than identified using older GDM diagnostic criteria and that found modest benefits (13
). The frequency of their follow-up and blood glucose monitoring is not yet clear but likely to be less intensive than women diagnosed by the older criteria. Additional well-designed clinical studies are needed to determine the optimal intensity of monitoring and treatment of women with GDM diagnosed by the new criteria (that would not have met the prior definition of GDM). It is important to note that 80-90% of women in both of the mild GDM studies (whose glucose values overlapped with the thresholds recommended herein) could be managed with lifestyle therapy alone.