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What Do Common Blood Tests Reveal About Your Health?

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Female doctor talking to adult female patient

An annual physical with a primary care physician is the best way to support good health. In addition to taking your weight and blood pressure, your doctor will order a variety of blood tests based on your age and health history.

“The type of blood tests and the frequency at which they are repeated will depend on your age, gender, family history and risk factors,” says University Hospitals family medicine specialist, Laura Bracknell, DO. “There are several, however, that are considered routine and will be ordered for most patients at their annual physical. For the most accurate results, you will typically be asked to fast for 10-12 hours before blood is drawn for these tests.”

Routine Blood Tests

Complete Blood Count (CBC). The CBC is a routine blood test that assesses bone marrow health and the immune system, and screens for infections, anemia and other blood abnormalities. The test measures the quantity and quality of the following:

  • Platelets. Small cell fragments made in the bone marrow that help with clot formation to stop, slow or prevent bleeding.
  • Red blood cells. The most common type of blood cell, red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. They also are responsible for taking carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled.
  • Hemoglobin. An iron-containing protein in red blood cells that supports the transportation of oxygen.
  • White blood cells. Also called leucocytes, the role of white blood cells is to detect infection or foreign molecules in the body.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP). This test assesses metabolism, specifically how well the liver and kidneys are functioning. It does this by measuring 14 blood components, including electrolytes, potassium, sodium, calcium, blood glucose and liver enzymes.

The results can be an indicator of diabetes or prediabetes, blood sugar imbalances, dehydration and liver damage or disease. In people with known liver disease, a CMP may be repeated more frequently to monitor progression of the disease and to determine whether treatment is working to slow or reverse liver dysfunction.

In some young, healthy people without risk factors for liver disease, a basic metabolic panel (BMP) may be ordered instead, which does not measure liver enzymes.

Standard Lipid Profile. This blood test measures the levels of fatty compounds in your blood and provides important information about your cardiovascular health. Your doctor may order this test more frequently if you have a family history of heart disease, obesity or stroke.

The lipids typically measured include:

  • High Density Lipoproteins (HDL). Often referred to as “good” cholesterol, HDL absorbs cholesterol in the blood and brings it to the liver so that it can be flushed from the body. The ideal level for both men and women is 60 mg/dL or higher. Optimal levels of HDL can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL). Often called “bad” cholesterol because high levels of it in the blood can lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. For optimal cardiovascular health, LDL levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides. Another type of lipid (fat) found in your blood, high levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease. Everyone should aim for levels of 150 mg/dL or lower.

If your LDL or triglyceride levels are too high or your HDL levels too low, your doctor will discuss lifestyle and dietary changes that can help. In some cases, medication may be prescribed.

Other Blood Tests

Additional screening blood tests that may be ordered based on a patient’s age, gender and medical history include:

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). A screening test for men, the PSA blood test checks the level of PSA protein which is created in the prostate gland. Elevated levels may indicate an enlarged prostate or prostate inflammation. In some cases, high PSA levels may be a sign of prostate cancer. Men 50 years of age and older are encouraged to talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of PSA testing. Those with a family history or additional risk factors for prostate cancer may benefit from having this discussion at a younger age.

Hemoglobin A1c. This test measures your blood sugar levels over the past several months. An elevated A1c may be a sign that your body isn’t producing enough insulin to efficiently move glucose from your blood into the cells of your muscles, fat tissue and liver. High blood glucose levels can be an indicator of prediabetes, diabetes or insulin resistance.

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). Used to detect high (hyperthyroidism) and low (hypothyroidism) levels of this hormone, a TSH blood test is usually only ordered if a patient has symptoms or a family history of thyroid disease. Doctors may also order this test for patients with high blood pressure, chronic fatigue or heart palpitations. TSH imbalances are generally very treatable with medication.

Vitamin D. Although not routinely ordered, doctors may test for vitamin D deficiency if a patient complains of chronic fatigue, depression or other related symptoms. Low levels of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, increased fracture risk, lowered immunity and other medical problems. If test results reveal a deficiency, supplements may be prescribed for a period of time.

Anemia Panel. This blood test measures key nutrients such as iron, ferritin, folate and vitamin B12. Doctors may order an anemia panel for patients with chronic fatigue, lack of energy, heavy menstrual cycles, or certain gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac or Crohn’s disease. Based on the results, supplements may be prescribed.

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Developing a trusted relationship with a primary care provider is the best way to maintain optimal health. University Hospitals has a vast network of primary care providers at convenient locations across the region.

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