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Breaking Down Bloodwork

Feb 19, 2013

It's that time again: annual physical combined with blood tests to see how your cholesterol, glucose, you name it has changed since this time last year. If you're like most of us, you've often wondered exactly what they're looking for and what all those numbers mean.

I thought it may be interesting to give a little background information on come of the lingo used on blood test charts. Below are some of the common things that your doc looks at and the ranges that you may or may not fall within:

  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP): This is a marker of inflammation in the blood. Elevated levels are common with folks that have an increased risk of heart disease; however, CRP rises when any type of inflammation is detectable. Low risk is below 1.0 mg/L, average risk is 1.0-3.0 mg/L, and high risk is 3.1-10.0 mg/L. Any number higher than 10.0 would indicate other tests need to be performed.
  • Hemoglobin A1-C: This is a test given to show risk (or presence) of diabetes. It shows levels of glucose over the previous 3 months. This value shows how well a person is able to control their blood sugar. Decreased risk is below 5.7, at risk for diabetes is apparent at 5.7-6.4, and a value of 6.5 and greater is consistent with a diagnosis for diabetees.
  • Metabolic Panel: These tests are used to diagnose and show risk for diabetes, kidney and liver disease. Fasting glucose levels are measured to help determine the presence of diabetes. There is a set of four tests that measure levels of electrolytes--important in monitoring fluid balance and pH levels. Other tests perform look at calcium, total protein, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. Normal fasted glucose is between 65-99 mg/dL, 100-125 indicates prediabetes, and 126 and above on multiple tests shows diabetes is present.
  • Lipid Panel: This is a set of the most commonly talked about numbers: your cholesterol levels. Here your doc is looking for three main markers, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. LDL is what is known as the "bad" cholesterol, the form that gets oxidized and forms plaques in the arteries. HDL has been considered the "good" cholesterol, but recent research shows that those with higher levels of HDL are at no less risk for developing heart disease! Triglycerides are basically fats in the blood that aid in clot formation along with LDL. Other tests on this panel may be used to determine LDL particle size, not just number. Knowing the size determines with more clarity how high the risk may be. Large LDL particles are less risk since the small LDL's are the ones that are prone to form clots. Desirable LDL is less than 130, 130-159 is borderline high, and greater than 190 is high risk. Greater than 60 for HDL is considered high while less than 40 is considered low. Total cholesterol less than 200 is desirable, 200-239 is borderline high, and greater than 240 is high. Less than 150 for triglycerides is desirable, 150-199 is borderline high, 200-499 is high, and 500 and greater is very high.
  • Liver Function: Monitoring your liver health is very important in that this is your body's processing plant for many nutrients and your main detox organ for the stuff that needs to get out. Bilirubin is a waste product of the liver that is measured in most blood work. ALP, AST, and ALT are all liver enzymes that help indicate how efficient the liver is functioning. Levels of these four things rise in response to malfunction in the liver. Bilirubin should fall between 0.2 and 1.2 mg/DL, ALP between 33 and 130 U/L, AST between 10 and 35 U/L and ALT between 6 and 40 U/L.

It's no surprise that a lot of this can be quite confusing. I'm sure a lot of your docs have never sat down with you to discuss exactly what each of the values on your blood test results actually mean and why they are testing them. Hopefully this gives you a better idea of what the lingo represents and the values that you want to aim for by keeping your lifestyle healthy and active with good food choices and appropriate exercise. Always remember, you are your number one advocate when it comes to your health! If you want to know and need a better understanding, ask your doc to thoroughly discuss your results.

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