What do all the numbers mean?
Your doctor wants you to have lab work done, so you get your blood drawn. A few days later, you get your results. As you examine them, you have no idea not only what testing was done or if your results are abnormal. Your doctor should explain all of this to you, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. You can be better prepared with any questions you might have if you know the breakdown of not only what lab work is being ordered, but what the results mean.
Common Lab Tests
There are numerous different lab tests that your doctor can order. However, there are a few that they order frequently and can give a better picture of your overall health. Complete Blood Count (CBC) is used to screen for infection, anemia, nutritional status and toxic substance exposure. Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP) is a group of 7-8 tests that provide information about kidney function and screen for diabetes. Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) is a group of 14 tests that provides information about kidney function, liver function, electrolytes, acid/base balance, blood sugar, and blood proteins. Hemoglobin A1C (AIC) is used to monitor diabetes and is completed with the first diagnosis and 2-4 times a year after (this is a long term monitor of blood sugar levels). Blood Glucose Level (BGL) assesses the current blood sugar level at the current moment in time. Lipid Profile is a group of tests that help determine the risk of coronary heart disease by looking at the amount of different types of cholesterol. Liver Function Tests (LFT) assesses for liver damage or disease, such as hepatitis. Prothrombin Time (PT) is used to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-coagulants (blood-thinning medications). Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is used to diagnosis and monitor thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism. Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) is used to confirm and monitor pregnancy (it can be done via blood or urine sample). Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is used to screen for and monitor prostate cancer. Urinalysis is used to examine kidney function. Urine Culture is used to diagnose a urinary tract infection, or UTI. Blood Cultures are used to diagnose type of infection in the bloodstream.
Now that you know what certain lab tests are used for, there are some considerations that you should be aware of. 1) If your lab work is within normal limits, your doctor will not go over them with you unless you ask. One thing you should ask is if your results have changed from the last test of the same type and what those changes mean. 2) Lab test ranges can vary according to gender and what is “normal” for men is different than the “normal” for women. This is also the same for children versus adults. For a list of ranges for commonly ordered tests, please see Fast Facts. 3) A “positive” test result doesn’t always mean positive news and a “negative” test results is usually good news. 4) False-positive and false-negative tests can happen. If you are concerned that a test result is incorrect, ask your doctor about getting retested. 5) Test values can vary from lab to lab, so don’t be surprised if your doctor switches which lab they use, the normal ranges can change. The important thing to look at is how your most recent test result compares to your previous results (this shouldn’t change even with a switch in lab processor). 6) Abnormal results might not be due to a disease, but circumstances that were in place before you had your test. For example, if you test your blood glucose right after you eat, it would be elevated. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes, but should retest after fasting.
Lab work doesn’t have to be confusing. By having knowledge of your lab test results, you will have a better understanding of what your doctor is concerned about and be able to make more informed choices regarding your health. For further information about lab tests, please visit Lab Tests Online at https://labtestsonline.org/