At some point in our lives, almost all of us have to undergo blood test done by a healthcare expert. Naturally, this also means that we will be confronted with hard-to-understand blood test results. Lab Me, works to solve that using advanced computer intelligence. However, in the mean time here is our ultimate guide to understanding what those confusing numbers & letters actually mean.
Fig: Understand Your Blood Test Results
For example: Complete Blood Count (CBC) is the most common type of blood test performed. It measures various types of formed elements and cells in the blood, including white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), hemoglobin and platelets.
CBC includes different types of test components, including blood glucose test and cholesterol panel. If you don’t want to rely completely on the interpretations by the doctor and know your health status better, it is always wise to understand your blood test results with Lab Me Analytics (We will discuss about it later). However, you will need to follow up your doctor and return to the clinic for blood test results if needed.
Once you know how blood type test is presented, you can scan the report for abnormal units (if any), which will be flagged as either too high (H) or too low (L). There is no need to memorize the ranges which are normal of any component as they will be presented along with results as reference.
What abnormal results indicating vs. normal blood cells?
There are two types of blood cells – white blood cells and red blood cells. RBCs have a protein called hemoglobin which pumps oxygen to all our body tissues. WBCs belong to our immune system and they remove pathogenic microbes like bacteria, viruses and parasites. Low RBC is the sign of anemia (which means deficiency of oxygen reaching the tissues). There are so many RBCs (erythrocytosis) which are the sign of bone marrow disease.
Low WBC (leucopenia) is also the sign of side effects from certain medications or procedures like chemotherapy and bone marrow problem. On the other side, high WBC (leukocytosis) is the sign that your body is fighting against infection. There are some drugs like steroids can also be the sign of high WBC.
Normal ranges of RBC vary in men and women. Usually, men have up to 20% to 25% of RBCs as they have more muscle tissue and they may be larger so they need more oxygen.
Mean Corpuscular Volume (average RBC volume) and Hematocrit (blood percentage by RBCs) are two different measuring units of RBCs and both of these values are higher in men mostly because they need more oxygen.
How other basic elements work in blood?
Hemoglobin and platelets are two other components in CBC. Hemoglobin is a molecule based on iron in blood which carries oxygen when blood circulates to the body through lungs and platelets are the part of blood clotting system in the body and help avoid excessive bleeding. Lack of hemoglobin (because of bone marrow problem and lack of iron) causes anemia, when prolonged internal or external bleeding from any medical condition or traumatic injury causes low platelet count (thrombocytopenia). On the other side, high amount of platelet (thrombocytosis) is caused by severe inflammation or bone marrow problem.
Both hemoglobin and RBCs are connected as hemoglobin is carried in RBCs. You may have malformed RBCs (sickle cell anemia) without hemoglobin. Blood thinning is caused by many compounds. They affect the sticking of platelets and don’t let blood to clot. Some of the major culprits behind blood thinning are aspirin, ibuprofen, heparin, etc., garlic, parsley, and alcohol.
CBC also covers the levels of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN), eosinophil (Eos), mean corpuscular volume (MCV), mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), and mean cell hemoglobin concentration (MCHC).
Knowing Different Types of Tests and Profiles
What is Lipid Profile?
Lipid profile is a specific blood test which helps determine the risk of heart disease like heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis. Doctors assess the blood work results of lipid profile before they figure out if you need medications to control cholesterol.
Doctors test the lipid profile results before they determine if you need medications to control cholesterol. Usually, lipid profile includes all lipoproteins in the blood (total cholesterol), low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) and triglycerides, fats which are stored basically in fat cells. Basically, total cholesterol should be below 200mg/dL and favorable (1:2) HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio to prevent heart disease.
HDL cholesterol level removes extra cholesterol from blood and caries the same to liver to perform recycling. Favorable level of HDL cholesterol is around 50 mg/dL (ideally 60mg/dL). You need HDL cholesterol level to be high for good health.
LDL level consists of excess cholesterol in our blood vessels due to inflammation and injury which can trigger clogged arteries (atherosclerosis). Favorable levels are under 130 mg/dL (usually below 100 mg/dL).
What are the implications of blood test?
With a blood sugar test, the amount of glucose is measured which is circulating in the blood, especially without eating for around 8 hours. Usually this test is ordered if there is a risk of type 1 or type 2, or gestational diabetes. Diabetes takes place when our pancreas is unable to produce much amount of insulin (which collects glucose from our blood) and cells of our body which don’t enable insulin to deposit glucose in normal way. People who are suffering from diabetes have high glucose (hyperglycemia), which is usually higher than 125 mg/dL.
Prediabetic people (who are at high risk of diabetes) usually have around 100 to 125 mg/dL of glucose levels. Some other causes of blood glucose are chronic kidney problem, severe stress, cancerous or inflamed pancreas, and hyperthyroidism. Hypoglycemia is caused due to lack of blood glucose (usually under 70 mg/dL). The main causes are alcoholism, overdose of insulin medication, and kidney, heart, or liver failure.
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) is the measuring unit which shows elements in your blood like electrolytes (mineral salts), proteins, liver enzymes, creatinine, and glucose. It is prescribed to determine the overall health of the person. It can also check the status of your liver, kidneys, electrolyte levels, pancreas and acid balance. Usually, the CMP is ordered with CBC for blood work.
Sodium is basically an electrolyte needed to control fluid level in your body and to allow muscles and nerves to work well. Too much of it can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) and increase heart attack risk. Normal levels of blood sugar are around 136 to 144 mg/dL. This section also includes other electrolytes like potassium.
Liver enzymes like AST and ALT are increased in blood because of inflammation or liver injury. Inflammation is often caused by consuming too much drugs (usually illicit, over-the-counter, and prescription) and/or alcohol, or from hepatitis and other infections. This section may cover albumin, bilirubin, and total protein.
If there are high levels of creatinine levels and blood urea nitrogen (BUN), which usually indicate kidney problems, BUN must be around 7 to 29 mg/dL, while creatinine must be around 0.8 to 1.4 mg/dL. CMP also includes elements like chloride, albumin, potassium, total protein, calcium, and bilirubin. High and low levels of such types of elements are the sign of disease.
Tips and Warnings
- Keep in mind there are certain factors affect blood test results, such as gender, aging, climate/altitude of your area, stress levels, etc. So, don’t get into any conclusion until you ask the doctor. If you want, you can get a chance to learn all measurement units. But you don’t have to do it because number compared to average range is vital.
- You should know what your blood test mean and also decipher the normal values. Only health care providers are skilled in blood test results interpretation and to use those as a guide to make the right diagnosis.
There are different reasons why medical professionals prescribe lab tests. Blood work is important for healthcare from monitoring the levels of medication to evaluating results when it comes to diagnose a medical condition. Blood tests are usually done to figure out the function of organs like kidneys or liver, determine risk factors, diagnose disease, assess blood clotting, and check medications you take. According to the type of blood test, you either give blood sample at any lab around you or in their office. To prepare for blood test physically and mentally, here’s what you can do.
Preparing for Blood Test Physically
Ask the doctors – You should ask about the blood tests ordered by your doctor. Special preparation is required in some blood tests for accurate results. Here are some of the blood tests which need special preparation –
- Glucose fasting – You will be instructed not to eat or drink anything except water for at least 8 to 12 hours. These tests are usually conducted in the morning so you don’t have to spend the day without eating.
- Glucose tolerance – In this test, you have to fast before visiting the lab. You will need to stay at the lab for around 5 hours and doctors would collect samples every 30 to 60 minutes.
- Cortisol test – In this test, you will have to avoid exercise the day before test, lie down for around 30 minutes before test and avoid drinking or eating anything for one hour before test.
- Serum Lipid – Also known as cholesterol blood test, this type of test will need you to fast up to 12 hours beforehand.
Ask about medications – Some medications affect blood test results. So, you have to stop taking them before blood test. Recreational drugs, prescription medicines, vitamins, alcohol, OTC medications, and blood thinners can affect the blood test results, according to the purpose of blood test. Your doctor can figure out if you need to wait 48 hours to do blood work or what you can take that will not affect the results significantly.
Avoid some activities – Some types of blood tests can be affected due to certain activities. Any type of heavy exercise, recent activity, smoking, dehydration, herbal teas, etc. can alter the tests. Doctors may ask you to avoid those activities before blood test.
Ask for instructions – A lot of tests don’t call for any special preparations before drawing the blood. If you have any doubt, ask. If they don’t say anything, ask for instructions to reduce the risk when you come for test without preparation.
Drink proper amount of water – Drink plenty of water so they can easily draw your blood. Veins will be larger and they can easily find them and blood will not be that thick and can flow easily into the tube when you’re hydrated well. If doctors prescribe you to fast also from water, you must be very well hydrated a day before. You may have to wake up to pee during the night. However, in most cases, blood test can go well if you are well hydrated.
Preparing for Blood Test Mentally
Manage stress – Anxiety and nervousness are common when it comes to go for blood test. Sadly, stress shrinks your veins, increases blood pressure, and makes it more difficult to draw blood. You should control your stress to prepare yourself for the test and increase the chances of success in blood test.
For doing this, there are some stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation etc. Keep in mind that you will get over it very soon. You are not alone who is getting your blood drawn.
Know your fears – Before going for blood test, you might be nervous on getting your blood drawn. Maybe the fear of needles is annoying you. Around 3 to 10 percent of people have Belonephobia (fear of needles) or Trypanophobia (fear of injections). Around 80% of people who have Belonephobia report that they have great fear of needles. This fear may be genetic.
Know what may happen before the procedure – To prepare well mentally for getting blood drawn, you should consider the procedure. To reduce exposure to blood, the phlebotomist wears the glove and covers your arm with elastic band and will tell you to make a fist. Blood is drawn from a finger prick or from a vein in your arm.
Elastic band helps expand the blood in the particular area of arm as blood comes through arteries that are placed deeper in your arm. It expands the size of veins so they can easily find and stick.
How blood is drawn?
No matter where you go, clinic or lab, the procedure to draw your blood is same. Needle will be inserted into your vein, which is attached to a tube. The injection is taken off when enough blood is collected in the tube and it locks the blood automatically.
If they have to collect more blood, they will keep the needle inserted, and put another tube on the end of needle. Once all the tubes are filled, phlebotomist will then remove needle and stick a cotton ball instantly on the area. They will ask you to press the area when they prepare tubes for lab test. If bleeding doesn’t stop, they may also give you a band-aid over the gauze and it will hardly take 3-5 minutes.
What to do after blood test?
Ask how long test results would take to come – Some tests take only 24 hours while some even take a week or more, in special cases when blood sample should be sent to another lab. Ask your doctor about the process to get the results. If results are under normal range, you may not be notified. Ask how long it will take before getting the result from the lab.
Even if you get the results normal, ask them to notify you. This way, your results won’t fall under the cracks so you cannot be notified if results don’t come normal. Call the doctor around 36 to 48 hours as results must have come if you don’t get any call. Ask the doctor if they have online notification. You may register their website so you can get the results online.
Ask about the possible complications – Some situations may affect the accuracy of results of blood test. Prolonged application of tourniquet can cause extremity or pooling of blood in the arm where blood was getting drawn. It increases the risk of wrong negative or positive and concentration of blood.
Tourniquet must be placed for only one minute or so to avoid pooling of blood or hemoconcentration. They should remove the tourniquet, if it takes longer than one minute to find the vein. And after two minutes quickly re-apply it and then add the needle.
Discuss hemolysis – It is not a health complication you should worry about. Rather, it is a problem with sample of blood. It takes place when RBCs rupture and other elements enter into the serum of blood. Hemolyzed blood is not good for lab test and you need to provide another sample. The chances for hemolysis are high in these cases –
- Getting blood from vein which is placed around hematoma
- Tube is mixed well after getting removed from needle
- Clenching the fist excessively while drawing the blood
- Using smaller needle that can damage the cells once blood is drawn on the tube
- Leaving tourniquet for over a minute.
Watch out for a bruise – Bruise is the most common side effect of drawing blood. Also known as hematoma, bruise takes place at the area where needle gets in. It can show up quickly or within 24 hours after drawing blood. Some factors responsible for the formation of hematoma include blood leakage off the opening when needle enters through the vein into the nearby tissue. It can be due to anticoagulant medicines or bleeding disorders, which is supposed to increase risk that hematoma or bruise may take place at the area where it is drawn.
Here’s what you can do –
- Pressurizing the area where blood was drawn for up to five minutes, i.e. longer than required to keep the area from bleeding. It will help prevent the bruises or clotting of blood over the blood vessel.
- It is the most common bleeding problem but it’s quite rare and it comes in form A and B.
- VWD or Von Willebrand disease is another common disorder of bleeding and it affects blood clotting.
- Patients should inform the phlebotomist and doctor that they have bleeding problem when drawing the blood.
What to Eat?
If doctor prescribes you to fast before blood test, it is better to bring your homemade snack to eat after test. Also have a bottle of water by your side and snack which you don’t have to refrigerate. It will cover you till you have a meal.
For example, you may have a handful of walnuts or almonds, whey protein, peanut butter crackers etc. which are easy to carry and can give some calories and protein until you have a meal. If you don’t bring anything, ask their staff to arrange some crackers and cookies for this purpose.
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