Things you should always ask your doctor after a blood test
Things you should always ask your doctor after a blood test
It's very important to visit your doctor for an annual check-up, and a crucial component of this yearly visit is the blood test. Many doctors will actually do at least three separate blood tests: a complete blood count (CBC), which tests the blood's main components; a lipid profile, which tests the levels of fat and fat-like substances in the blood; and a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), which tests the blood for 14 indicators of overall health. One of the many important things to know before taking a blood test is what is exactly being tested; it's even more important to know what to ask your doctor once the results come in. Unfortunately, there are a lot of questions we should be asking our doctors but aren't.
Depending on your overall health, doctors may not order all three tests; some will order even more specific ones. When you return to go over your results, it's important to know exactly what these blood tests are testing for, and what the implications of being outside the normal range are. Your doctor will most likely walk you through the results and go over next steps with you before you leave, but it can all seem a little overwhelming. To get the most of your doctor visit, here are 14 questions that it's important to come equipped with.
Can I have a copy of the results?
You should always return to the doctor's office after a comprehensive blood test to go over the results in person, instead of relying on a phone call to give you the big picture. When you do, always ask for a hard copy of the results, so you can have all the information you need for a thorough conversation about them with your doctor.
Is anything abnormal?
If there's anything that jumps off the page as egregiously abnormal, your doctor will tell you. But if certain indicators are just a little out of range in one direction or another, it's important to know that as well.
Are my platelet, red blood cell and white blood cell counts within the normal range?
A complete blood count (CBC) test measures the levels of red blood cells (which carry oxygen), white blood cells (which fend off infections), platelets (which help blood clot) and hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen in blood) in your blood. Deviations from the norm can indicate conditions including leukemia and anemia, so it's important to know if they're in range. Certain CBC results can be telltale signs of cancer.
How is my cholesterol?
Many doctors will also order a lipid profile, which will tell you the levels of triglycerides, HDL and LDL (the two primary cholesterol types) and total cholesterol. If any of these levels are elevated beyond the optimal range, you may be at higher risk for stroke, heart disease and peripheral artery disease.
Are electrolyte levels normal?
Comprehensive metabolic panels (CPC) test for (among other things) electrolyte levels, which include potassium, sodium and chloride. These naturally occurring minerals are essential for maintaining brain function, heart rhythm, fluid balance and muscle contraction, and electrolyte imbalance can lead to problems including seizures, muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat.
How is my glucose level?
Glucose is the body's energy source, and a constant, steady supply must be maintained in the bloodstream. If fasting blood glucose reaches a certain point (126 milligrams per deciliter), however, it can be a clear indicator of diabetes.
Am I at risk for developing diabetes?
If your blood sugar levels are above normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, you have a condition called prediabetes; according to the American Diabetes Association, more than 80 million adults (about one in three) are prediabetic, which can indicate a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and, obviously, diabetes. If you are at risk for prediabetes, consider these dietary changes to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
Is the level of protein in my blood within range?
The total serum protein test (included in the CPC) measures the levels of two proteins in the blood, albumin and globulin. Albumin is made in the liver, and its functions include preventing blood from leaking out of blood vessels; globulins are made by the liver and immune system. Both are essential to tissue growth, healing and fighting infection.
Is the level of calcium in my blood within range?
Calcium is the most dominant mineral in the body, and it's essential for nerve and muscle function, blood clotting, proper heart function and, of course, for healthy bones and teeth.
Does anything in the results indicate improper kidney function?
The kidneys filter waste from the blood and help balance the blood's water, salt and mineral levels. A CMP checks kidney function by testing levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, waste products which rise beyond normal range if your kidneys aren't filtering the blood properly.
Does anything in the results indicate improper liver function?
The liver performs a large range of important functions, including processing nutrients absorbed during digestion, metabolizing drugs, controlling what does and doesn't enter the bloodstream and filtering toxins from the blood. CMPs test for bilirubin, a dark yellow substance found in bile; an excess can lead to jaundice, which can indicate liver disease (hepatitis), blood disorders or a bile duct blockage. A CMP also tests the levels of three enzymes called ALT, ALP and AST; low levels of these enzymes usually appear in the blood, but if they're elevated it can indicate liver damage.
Do these results paint any larger pictures about my overall health?
Examining all of your blood work can be overwhelming, so it's important that your doctor paint a larger picture of what the results indicate about your overall health.
Are follow-up visits required?
Sometimes, your doctor will want to simply monitor a level over the course of a couple years to see if it gets better or worse on its own. But other times he or she will suggest you make a lifestyle change and come back sooner rather than later to be tested again, or may refer you to a specialist for further examination.
Would you recommend any dietary or lifestyle changes?
Learning that some of the things checked for in a blood test are outside of the optimal range can be quite unsettling, obviously. Thankfully, many outliers can be brought back into normal range through dietary or lifestyle changes; for example, if your calcium levels are low you can start taking a supplement, and if your liver enzymes are high you can cut back on your alcohol intake. For each of the outliers in your results, make sure you discuss the best course of action to get them back into a healthy range. Your doctor can't suggest lifestyle changes if they don't know your current lifestyle, however; that's why it's important to never keep secrets from your doctor.
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