Monday Medical: Common blood tests and your health
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — From cholesterol levels to kidney function, your blood carries a lot of information about your health. Simple blood tests can reveal various issues, such as whether you’re at risk of developing diabetes or if you’re suffering from a disease, such as leukemia.
“These screening blood tests can help find issues you want to catch early to address, but that you wouldn’t be aware of otherwise because you don’t feel different or have symptoms,” said Dr. James Hopfenbeck, a pathologist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Hopfenbeck gives information on the most common blood tests below.
This test measures the amount of glucose, or sugar, in your blood. After eight hours of fasting, your blood glucose should be at or below 100. A higher blood glucose may indicate you are at risk for diabetes.
If you have Type 2 diabetes or are pre-diabetic, your health care provider will work with you to provide appropriate medications to lower blood sugar and make changes to your diet.
“It’s a very helpful, useful screening test,” Hopfenbeck said. “If you can control diabetes early, you can push off some of the negative consequences.”
This blood test measures the amounts of triglycerides, or fats, and cholesterol in your blood. Two main types of cholesterol are measured — HDL and LDL cholesterols.
In lieu of a community health fair, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center is offering Community Health Days 365, in which patients can make an appointment any time this year for discounted blood panels. Visit uchealth.org/yvmclab for more information.
It’s best for LDL cholesterol to be below 100, as high levels of that cholesterol are associated with increased risk of heart disease, heart attack and high blood pressure. Having high HDL cholesterol, however, helps prevent heart disease, so a higher level is actually a positive result.
“The screening lets you know something you wouldn’t know otherwise,” Hopfenbeck said. “If you have a high LDL cholesterol, you wouldn’t feel any different, but you should talk with your doctor about going on a diet and managing it with medication.”
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
This test counts red and white blood cells. If your count of oxygen-carrying red blood cells is low, it is often a sign that you may be anemic, a condition that causes weakness and fatigue.
White blood cells fight infection, so too few may mean you’re more susceptible to infection, while too many could indicate you have a cancer in your bone marrow, such as leukemia.
This blood test measures your kidney and liver function, and gives insight to your overall nutrition, including whether you are getting enough protein and how balanced your electrolytes and fluids are.
Some people may also want to review their levels of TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), which can give an idea of whether the thyroid is functioning normally.
The Hemoglobin A1C test gives people with diabetes a sense of their blood glucose levels over time.
Hopfenbeck has recently heard of more patients asking to check their levels of vitamin D, especially as small studies have suggested people with normal vitamin D levels are less likely to be seriously sickened by COVID-19.
“Whether that pans out with bigger studies, I don’t know,” Hopfenbeck said. But vitamin D levels impact the immune system, bone strength, kidney function and more, so many health providers recommend confirming that your levels are normal.
Things to know
Keep in mind that a range of results can be okay. For some tests, it’s actually normal for some people to be outside of the “normal” range.
“Sometimes, people will get a number that’s slightly off and will get really concerned,” Hopfenbeck said. “But that just may be what their normal number is.”
And with Community Health Days 365, people can make an appointment to get discounted blood panels at any time.
“They can still get what they had in terms of blood work at the health fair, except now, it’s available all year,” Hopfenbeck said.
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