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Laboratory Blood Test Results- Understanding Their Meaning

Updated on November 16, 2015
While you are visiting your doctor for a routine office visit, you can expect to have two to three tubes of blood drawn. These blood samples are used to determine among other things, your CBC, or complete blood count.
While you are visiting your doctor for a routine office visit, you can expect to have two to three tubes of blood drawn. These blood samples are used to determine among other things, your CBC, or complete blood count. | Source

Red Blood Cells

Too little of the Erythrocytes in our circulating blood, can lead to a disorder such as Anemia. Red blood cells or Erythrocytes, carry hemoglobin which gives us the necessary oxygen needed to perform many activities.
Too little of the Erythrocytes in our circulating blood, can lead to a disorder such as Anemia. Red blood cells or Erythrocytes, carry hemoglobin which gives us the necessary oxygen needed to perform many activities.

A white blood cell under the microscope

Human blood is very complex, in the foreground picture, stained in violet, is a white blood cell called an Eosinophil. This type of blood cell, is usually present along with Neutrophils when an allergen is present.
Human blood is very complex, in the foreground picture, stained in violet, is a white blood cell called an Eosinophil. This type of blood cell, is usually present along with Neutrophils when an allergen is present.

When it comes to evaluating your overall health, laboratory blood tests by far are the most important. Important in the sense that they assist the physician with the diagnosis of various diseases of the body. Conditions that would otherwise be virtually undetectable, during an ordinary physical exam. It's obvious that when you have a bad cold or even the flu, your doctor would be able to diagnose what is wrong with you.

He or she would be able to do so without having to take a tube of blood or doing a urinalysis on you for example. And afterward would be able to send you home with the proper follow-up treatment. Perhaps instructing you to pick up a few over-the-counter cold remedies at the local pharmacy, to help alleviate your symptoms.

It is without a doubt that physician's have spent many years in medical school, learning about various complex diseases and disorders. They for the most part want to help their patients after they have established their practices, because they care about people and the illnesses that they suffer with.

Let's remember though that physician's like you and me are not God's and cannot possibly diagnose and cure all the sicknesses and other problems in the world. Also when it comes to a diagnoses, in many instances doctor's fail to do so the first time, and as a result the patient may have to return to him or her for further evaluation.

And during this follow-up visit with the doctor, that doctor may decide to take yet another blood sample a blood sample from the patient. And maybe even a sample of urine to send in to the lab. Further analysis may show through blood test results that a more serious condition like anemia; or walking pneumonia is present and making you feel the way you're feeling,right now for example.

Also certain conditions can mimic other conditions as some people may already know. An example of one such disease that can do just that, Are tick borne disease. For example Lyme disease can fool even the most experienced doctor, into thinking that you may have the seasonal flu. That is because it does just that, Lyme disease for one mimics the same symptoms that are seen with the flu virus. And only a specialized blood test, called a western blot can confirm the diagnosis of Lyme Disease, and clarify its difference from ordinary flu.

So as you can see by the example presented here there are many diseases that can be better diagnosed, with the employment of modern medical laboratory tests. Diseases and conditions that your physician would not have been able to diagnose correctly in the first place, without the knowledge. Knowledge that informs them as to what is really making you ill.

Also don't always count on your doctor to be your sole health advocate. Doctor's for the most part as briefly mentioned do not know everything, and what they do know, they are not so reluctant to share with individual patients that they see in their practices.

On the other hand they may also have a reason for not wanting to share some laboratory information with you. Whether it is because they do not want you to know right away about a more serious condition that has developed. Or for the reason they want to wait until more conclusive evidence in reference to your condition has been established before sharing it with you.

Have you ever heard of the saying that-"Sometimes The Best Psychiatrist Is The One Inside You?", If any of the audience have ever seen the movie comedy, WHAT ABOUT BOB? with the actors Richard Dreyfus and Bill Murray playing the part as Doctor and Patient respectively, you will know what I am referring to, in referencing the above quote.

In other words most of us do not really need a psychiatrist or other type of specialist for that matter to figure out what is ailing us. It may be simply corrected by changing our present diet for example, or giving up smoking to help alleviate an annoying cough.

However as most of us know, not everything is made up and only a figment of our imaginations. Specialized tests like those of complex blood tests and Urinalyses are still much needed to peer into the deepest parts of the cells of our bodies.

Even the most health-conscious individuals do not know as much as they should know about different urine and diagnostic blood tests. Red and White blood, sometimes referred to as (leukocyte) cells, are the major components of our bodies, that when broken down through various tests, put a different perspective on what could be wrong with us. For one a (CBC), or complete blood count measures in your blood, the number of different white or red blood cells that are present at any given time.

A multitude of different diseases can be detected; by the presence of an abnormal amount of any one of these blood cells circulating within your system. Certain infections...blood disorders, different types of anemia's for one and some cancers are further diagnosed through complex blood tests.

It is also a good idea after reviewing your laboratory results with your physician, to keep a copy for your own records. Laboratory blood values and urinalyses include with them a reference range. These reference ranges can be compared to future or past lab results in tracking your overall health status as the years subside.

Beside blood test results, urinalyses also summarize if you will, the chemistry and appearance of abnormalities within the urine. Abnormalities that can further signal urinary tract infections, some types of diabetes and cancer, not to mention kidney disease.

There are also what pathologists- (those who study various disease conditions) give the name "outliers" to. These outliers are individuals who are for the most part labeled healthy, but who also on the other hand have blood values that are slightly higher or lower in one or more categories.

As a result of this...further testing is usually required to come up with a more conclusive diagnosis. For example there are conditions where a person may have more circulating red blood cells. Or they may have less circulating white blood cells that can warrant further investigation and provide evidence of yet something else going on within that particular individual.

In addition various components of the circulating blood assist the pathologist in evaluating the complete blood count. The CBC may be ordered prior to a scheduled surgery, to rule out any fever that is present, fatigue associated with heart disease and/or anemia's The complete blood count further analyzes not only the red and white blood cells, but also the platelets that are all produced in the bone marrow.

As briefly touched upon, the Red and White blood cells are the most important components within the circulating blood. The white blood cells are equally as important as all of the other blood components. However they may be more so because they battle different types of bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents.

They like (RBC'S) or red blood cells are measured as thousands per cubic millimeter or (K/mm3) of blood. A normal range for white blood cells is referenced between (4.0 to 11.0). Anything below or above these referenced numbers could be indicative of a more serious condition. A condition or disease that is already going on or one that is beginning to develop within the body.

In addition to a White Blood Cell Count, your Doctor may also order additional and separate white blood cell counts. One of these is called a WBC differential. Unlike red blood cells, white blood cells contain five different types of cells. These are comprised of specialized blood cells which are involved with the inflammatory process.

These specialized cells are called Eosinophils and Neutrophils respectively. Along with Leukotrines they play a role in many different allergic response mainly during months when allergens are at their highest.. Also Monocytes and Lymphocytes depending on their individual amounts and shapes as seen under a microscope; can point to many other different infections.

Furthermore a (ANC) or absolute Neutrophil count can point to infections seen with some leukemias. And bone barrow failure can be the result of a decreased absolute neutrophil count. Polys, which are a type of mature white blood cell - and as mentioned a Neutrophil. Young band neutrophils are used to determine if any of the aforementioned conditions are present in an individual. Thirty-eight to seventy-eight percent is a normal range of all total White Blood Cells, when referring to an absolute neutrophil count.

Also it is good to remember not to let fear get the best of you, when it comes to receiving news of an abnormal WBC, or Red Blood Cell count for that matter. High leukocyte counts for example do not just signify bone barrow disorders and other infections, they also indicate allergic responses to certain substances as briefly mentioned. When it comes to allergies, nothing more than a series of allergy shots, from an allergist or a few over-the-counter allergy remedies such as claritin-D or Zyrtec is all that is needed to clear up a problem associated with allergies.

Even though it is always important to save copies of all of your laboratory work, including that of blood tests and urinalysis.When it comes to interpretation and diagnosis, let your Doctor handle the diagnosing of your lab values, in making that final call, based on the lab findings. Besides making diagnoses they are also trained to evaluate lab values associated with various disease processes.

Red Blood Cells or (RBC's) also mentioned briefly in the article do carry rich oxygenated blood throughout the circulatory system. And on the flip-side, remove carbon dioxide from the tissues. They are measured as millions per cubic millimeter, or (mil/mm3) of blood. Normal ranges for women are (4.2-5.4). For men that value is slightly higher, being (4.5 to 6.0 HGB. for men). From these laboratory values, one can see that the total amount of Red blood cells versus that of White Blood cells is lower within the circulating blood.

Hematocrit on the other hand is similar to Hemoglobin,and is basically a combination of the total amount of circulating red blood cells that are present. In other words it is a percentage of the blood that consists of the total amount of RBC's. A normal Hematocrit, (HCT) value in men is (13.5 to 17.5). In women that value is slightly lower being (12-16). Anemia can be the result of a low hematocrit. Still even a lower hematocrit signifies that not enough oxygen is being transported to the tissues. Normal Hemoglobin values for women are (37 to 47%). For men that number is (40%-52%).

Certain Cancer's, developing bone marrow disease, drug-side effects or anemia's are usually associated with low or abnormal erythrocyte counts. One other critical component of the blood, called platelets are important in arresting bleeding that has developed. They do this by forming clots. A normal range for both men and women is (150 to 400) total or individual number of platelets counted under a microscope.

A simple urinalysis is also a test performed by your Doctor and sent to the lab for final interpretation. It is usually performed at the same time that blood is drawn, or as an adjunct to a routine blood draw. The routine urinalysis is a useful tool and is usually employed by the physician particularly if you have been complaining of lower back pain, dark or bloody urine, or have frequent or painful urination. Some of these symptoms justify having a urinalysis performed by your doctor. Because other diseases that involve the kidneys could suggest other conditions.

A high level of protein in the urine for example can suggest kidney disease. If this is the case the physician will than order other kidney function test and creatinine are a few other tests that confirm the presence of kidney disease. To add the kidneys do not normally leak protein into the urine, that is why if it is discovered that there is a high level of protein in the urine, a routine urinalysis is usually conducted to rule out other conditions. An abnormal protein range for example would be over 10milligram per or over 100milliliters or urine.

High levels of Nitrate in the urine also indicate a urinary tract infection, while on the other hand crystals, composed of the amino acid, leucine suggest severe liver disease. Casts, are cellular deposits formed in the kidney. Not only do the presence of casts in particular; but their type as well can indicate problems with the kidneys or possibly even diabetes.

Glucose and Ketones in addition also hint diabetes being present, when there are excessive levels of these components in the urine. If your doctor suspects diabetes, because of a high number of ketones in the urine, he or she may than further order a hemoglobin AIC test that will confirm diabetes based on a number. Usually if you are diabetic your hemoglobin AIC should be below five. On the other hand, the lower the number the is better, particularly true if you are diabetic.

Leukocyte esterase is an enzyme, produced by white blood cells. If found in the Urine in excessive amounts it could also suggest diabetes and kidney disease. So in summarizing all of the various components of the circulating blood and urine, an individual could conclude that there is a lot of potential diseases and conditions that could develop as a result of cells being out of whack within your own body.

This is why it is so important to have some knowledge of how these components work, so you can better understand what the values mean in determining what is serious from that which is not so serious. The difference between having a mild urinary tract infection to that of developing early diabetes. All of these tests are important and are certainly not meant to scare the wits out of you if they are a little off in terms of the numbers shown on the lab report.. Usually your doctor will do a good job of doing the part of putting you on the edge.

Laboratory tests and their referenced values are usually correct for most part, but it is also good to be aware remember too, that often some laboratory reports can be erroneous or produce false results. Even though this is seldom the case, it has been noted and doesn't hurt to ask rather than assume when a technician is drawing your blood, to make sure that the blood that they just drew in in the tube is your own.

Also important to note is that the technician usually draws your blood in the exam room and not the doctor depending on the office. Not to say that Doctors are better than the techs at drawing blood. But just to point out that technicians do not have the same experience as most doctors.

Automated instruments, like centrifuges for example that spin down blood components are precise in analyzing and doing their respective job. It can be the operator who isn't so precise when drawing and labeling that tube of blood just drawn from your vein or artery. Being human, we are all imperfect. And with imperfection come mistakes, even within the hospital or laboratory setting.

This may seem a difficult question for some of us to ask, but a few may not know that if blood takes more than two minutes to fill the tube, it will usually clot in the process. If this does happen it will make your complete blood count sample, useless upon analyzing it at a later date. So even though it is difficult for some patients to distinguish this. It is always a good rule of thumb to ask the technician to make sure that your particular blood sample has not clotted. Keeping an eye on how quick the tube fills with your blood, is a good indication of this.

But as mentioned it is always good to ask additional questions when in doubt. Rather than be discouraged or upset in the end, as a result of erroneous laboratory values being reported to you by your doctor, because of an error made.

Besides it never hurts to be one up on the doctor or technician when it comes to knowing as much as they know, when it comes to procedures performed within the laboratory, or doctor's office. Sometimes this in itself is enough to prevent human error, by putting the power of knowledge to work. This is especially true when it comes to blood work, or other laboratory tests that dictate in the long run your general well-being!


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    • Jlbowden profile imageAUTHOR

      James Bowden 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York


      I appreciate all of your comments in reference to this article of mine. And I sincerely hope that you found it most beneficial. It is my goal to always inform and educate my readers on important subjects as this. So they have a better understanding of what their own physician is trying to reiterate to them in a series of blood work results for example.

      Often many physicians are just too busy to explain to a patient who does not have a real good understanding of what the Doctor is trying to tell them.

      So since I have a fairly good background within the medical arena, I like to clarify medical subject matter, by putting it all in an easy to understand, NUTSHELL, if you will. For the reader to utilize for his/her own personal information.

      And again I am glad that you found this information in some way, to be very useful to you. Also makes me feel good to have a reader, that appreciates such information, that can only benefit ones most precious commodity - their health!! Take care.


    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 

      5 years ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      Very interesting hub on interpreting lab results. My current physician always sends results to me I appreciate this service, and she is one of a kind. Your explanation of interpretation of lab results represent excellent knowledge and good writing skills. I am glad that our paths crossed, and it is a pleasure to know you.


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