February 26, 2024

A toxicologist reveals a simple trick to interpret your own blood work

Your blood plays numerous roles in maintaining your health. To perform these functions, blood contains many components, including red blood cells that transport oxygen, nutrients and hormones; white blood cells that remove waste products and support the immune system; plasma that regulates temperature; and platelets that help with clotting.

Numerous molecules are also formed in the blood as byproducts of normal biochemical functions. When these molecules indicate how your cells respond to disease, injury, or stress, scientists often call them biological markers or biomarkers. Thus, biomarkers in a blood sample can represent a snapshot of your body’s current biochemical state, and analyzing them can provide information about various aspects of your health.

As a toxicologist, I study the effects of drugs and environmental pollutants on human health. As part of my work, I use several health-related biomarkers, many of which are measured using conventional blood tests.

Understanding what common blood tests are meant to measure can help you interpret the results. If you have the results of a recent blood test on hand, you can track this.

Normal blood test ranges

Depending on the laboratory that analyzed your blood sample, your blood test results may be broken down into individual tests or collections of related tests, called panels. The results of these panels can allow a healthcare professional to recommend preventive care, detect potential diseases, and monitor ongoing health problems.

For each of the tests listed in your report, there will usually be a number that corresponds to your test result and a reference range or interval. This range is essentially the upper and lower limits within which most healthy people’s test results are expected to fall.

A reference interval, also called a normal range, is based on statistical analyzes of tests from a large number of patients in a reference population. Normal levels of some biomarkers are expected to vary within a group of people depending on their age, gender, ethnicity and other characteristics.

Separate reference populations are therefore often made of people with a certain characteristic. For example, a reference population could include all women or all children. A patient’s test value can then be appropriately compared with the results of the reference population that best suits him or her.

Reference intervals vary from laboratory to laboratory because each may use different test methods or reference populations. This means that you may not be able to compare your results to reference intervals from other laboratories. To determine how your test results compare to the normal range, check the reference interval listed in your laboratory report.

If you have results for a particular test from different laboratories, your doctor will likely focus on test trends relative to their reference intervals and not on the numerical results themselves.

Interpreting the results of your blood tests

There are numerous blood panels designed to test specific aspects of your health. These include panels that look at the cellular components of your blood, biomarkers of kidney and liver function, and more.

Rather than describing each panel, let’s look at a hypothetical case study where multiple panels must be used to diagnose a disease.

In this situation, a patient visits his healthcare provider because of fatigue that has lasted several months. Numerous factors and conditions can lead to long-term or chronic fatigue.

Based on physical examination, other symptoms, and medical history, the doctor suspects that the patient may have one of the following conditions: anemia, an underactive thyroid, or diabetes.

Blood tests could further narrow down the cause of fatigue.

Anemia is a condition in which the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen is reduced. This is the result of a lower than normal number of red blood cells or a decrease in the quantity or quality of hemoglobin, the protein that allows these cells to transport oxygen.

A complete blood count panel measures various components of the blood to provide a comprehensive overview of the cells that make up the blood. Low levels of red blood cell count, or RBC, hemoglobin, or Hb, and hematocrit, or HCT, could indicate that the patient is suffering from anemia.

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones. These include thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, which stimulates the thyroid gland to release two other hormones: triiodothyronine, or T3, and thyroxine, or T4. The thyroid function panel measures the levels of these hormones to assess thyroid-related health.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when blood sugar levels are too high. Excess glucose molecules in the bloodstream can bind to hemoglobin to form what is called glycated hemoglobin or HbA1c. A hemoglobin A1c test measures the percentage of HbA1c present in relation to the total amount of hemoglobin. This provides an overview of glucose levels in the bloodstream over a period of approximately three months prior to the test.

Additional information is provided by the Basic Metabolic Panel, or BMP, which measures the amount of various substances in your blood. These include:

  • Glucose is a type of sugar that provides energy for your body and brain. Relevant to diabetes, the BMP measures blood sugar levels at the time of the test.
  • Calcium is a mineral that is essential for the proper functioning of your nerves, muscles and heart.
  • Creatinine is a byproduct of muscle activity.
  • Blood urea nitrogen, or BUN, is the amount of waste product urea that your kidneys help remove from your blood. These indicate the status of a person’s metabolism, kidney health and electrolyte balance.

The results from each of these panels allow the provider to assess the patient’s values ​​in relation to their reference intervals and determine which condition he or she most likely has.

Understanding the purpose of blood tests and how to interpret them can help patients work with their healthcare providers and become better informed about their health.

This article was originally published on The conversation Through Brad Reisfeld at Colorado State University. Read the original article here.

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