Getting the results of lab tests or blood tests and trying to make sense of the report can be confusing to decipher. Before reading the report there are some things to consider that may affect specific results. It is common to have abnormal results, especially for older adults. Medications can affect the result of certain tests; however, any abnormality should be discussed with the primary doctor. For older adults, frequent testing may also cause abnormalities or errors. Since normal ranges are based on the average population, any result out of the norm may not be abnormal for a specific individual. In addition, the following can throw off lab results:
- High intensity exercise, even running, can cause dehydration and show as kidney insufficiency on the report;
- Sunburns can elevate white blood count which usually signals inflammation;
- White blood counts can be raised or lowered by a non-symptomatic cold virus;
- A potassium spike can result from an improper blood draw and eating too much licorice can make it drop; and
- Blood sugar readings can be skewed if the specimen sits for too long before the lab tests it.
Lipid Panel Lab Test
The lipid panel is a test to determine cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels can help determine the risk of heart disease. The terms “good” and “bad” cholesterol are prevalent in today’s health conversations, but what does it really mean? Overall low cholesterol does not necessarily mean an individual does not have a heart disease risk. What is also important is the level of good and bad cholesterol individually.
Cholesterol is a form of fat and some is needed in the body to help provide stability to the outer membranes of body cells. Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is considered “bad” because it can deposit nn the walls of blood vessels. Over time, this can build up and clog the arteries. The heart arteries can develop sudden clots which can cause heart attacks. High density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered good because it carries excess cholesterol out of the heart arteries and back into the liver where it is eliminated from the body.
A lipid panel also reports the level of triglycerides which is the main form of fat in the body. When people eat foods, the fat in the food is in the form of huge molecules. When the body breaks down the fat, the triglycerides are the end product. Any extra food eaten but not used at the time is also chemically converted to triglycerides. They are bundled together to form globules and transported through the blood to the liver. Once they leave the liver, they are packed into the LDLs and transported to where they are needed. Excess triglycerides are gathered up by the fat cells to be used for energy when food isn’t available.
When the overall total cholesterol is high, the LDL is high, or the good cholesterol is low, the individual is at a higher risk for heart disease. High levels of triglycerides are often associated with high LDL, low HDL and high overall cholesterol. Normal levels for lipid panel results are:
- 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less is considered normal
- 201 to 240 mg/dL is borderline.
- Greater than 240 mg/dL is high.
HDL- more is better:
- HDL 60 mg/dL or higher is good -- it protects against heart disease.
- HDL between 40 and 59 mg/dL is acceptable.
- Less than 40 mg/dL HDL is low, increasing the risk of heart disease.
LDL -lower is better:
- An LDL of less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is optimal.
- An LDL of 100 to 129 mg/dL or less is close to optimal.
- LDL between 130 and 159 is borderline high.
- LDL cholesterol of 160 mg/dL or more is high.
- An LDL of 190 mg/dL or more is considered very high.
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
The comprehensive metabolic panel test checks the kidneys and liver functions and electrolyte levels by testing various substances in the body. Testing the levels of these substances also gives the doctors information about the hydration level, lung health, insulin levels and nutritional concerns as well as the health of bones and muscles. Typical reports include:
Glucose (fasting) – tests the sugar in the blood:
- 70-99 mg/dl is deemed normal
- Low numbers could indicate hypoglycemia, excess insulin, liver disease, and/or adrenal insufficiency
- High numbers could indicate hyperglycemia, some types of diabetes or pre-diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and/or pancreatitis
Sodium – an electrolyte that helps give the body balanced:
- 136-144 mEq/L (milliequivalent per liter) is considered normal
- Low numbers could indicate use of diuretics, adrenal insufficiency and/or diarrhea
- High numbers may implicate kidney dysfunction, Cushing’s syndrome, and/or dehydration
Potassium – an electrolyte and mineral:
- 3.7-5.2 mEq/L is considered normal
- Low numbers could indicate use of diuretics or corticosteroids such as cortisone or prednisone
- High numbers may indicate chronic or acute kidney failure, diabetes, dehydration and/or Addison’s disease
Chloride - an electrolyte:
- 96-106 mmol/L (millimole per liter) is deemed normal
- Low numbers could indicate emphysema and/or chronic lung disease
- High numbers may indicate kidney disease, Cushing’s syndrome and/or dehydration
- 20-29 mmol/L is considered normal
- Low numbers could indicate severe infection, kidney disease, and/or toxic exposures
- High numbers may implicate lung diseases
BUN (blood urea nitrogen) – waste product formed in the liver, carried to the kidneys, filtered from the blood and excreted through urine:
- 7-20 mg/dL is considered normal
- Low numbers may indicate malnutrition
- High numbers may indicate kidney or liver disease and/or heart failure
Creatinine- chemical waste produced by muscle metabolism:
- 0.8-1.4 mg/dL is deemed normal
- Low numbers could indicate malnutrition and/or low muscle mass
- High numbers may indicate chronic or temporary decrease in kidney function
- 10:1-20:1 is considered in the normal range
- Low numbers could indicate malnutrition
- High numbers may implicate dehydration, blood in the bowels, and/or kidney obstruction
Calcium – mineral stored in the hard part of the bones:
- 8.5-10.9 mg/dL is considered normal
- Lower numbers may indicate deficiency in calcium, magnesium and/or vitamin D, malnutrition, neurological disorders, and/or pancreatitis
- Higher numbers may indicate kidney disease, excess vitamin D intake, cancer, and/or hyperparathyroidism
Protein- chains of amino acids essential for the growth and repair of cells:
- 6.3-7.9 g/dL (grams per deciliter) is considered normal range
- Low numbers could indicate malnutrition and/or liver or kidney disease
- High numbers may indicate dehydration, liver or kidney disease, and/or myeloma
Albumin – protein that keeps fluid from leaking out of blood vessels, nourishes tissues and transports nutrients throughout the body:
- 3.9-5.0 g/dL is deemed normal
- Low numbers may indicate liver or kidney disease and/or malnutrition
- High numbers may indicate dehydration
Billrubin – digestive fluid produced by the liver and pigment in the bile:
- 0.2-1.9 mg/dL is considered normal
- Lower numbers are generally not concerning
- Higher numbers may implicate liver disease, red cell destruction, and/or bile duct disorder
Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) – enzyme in the liver and bones:
- 44-147 IU/L (international unit per liter) is considered the normal range
- Low numbers may indicate malnutrition
- High numbers may indicate some types of cancer, Paget’s disease, and/or bile duct obstruction
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) – enzyme found mostly in the liver:
- 8-37 IU/L is considered normal
- Lower numbers are not generally concerning
- Higher numbers may indicate certain toxins such as excess acetaminophen or alcohol and/or hepatitis
Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) – enzyme found in the liver, muscles and other tissues:
- 10-34 IU/L is considered normal
- Low numbers are not generally concerning
- High numbers could ndicate muscle injury, hepatitis and/or an excess of acetaminophen
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
The third most common test measures the essential components of the blood. It gives the doctor important information about the kinds of numbers of cells in the blood and helps check symptoms of weakness, fatigue, or bruising. Reports usually include:
White blood cell count (WBC) – defend the body against infection:
- 4,500-10,000 cells/mcL (cells per microliter) is considered normal range
- Lower numbers could indicate viral infections, autoimmune illness, bone marrow failure and/or chemotherapy
- High numbers could indicate infection, cancer, leukemia, inflammation, intense exercise, corticosteroids, and/or infection
Red blood cell count (RBC) – red blood cells deliver oxygen from the blood to the tissues throughout the body:
- 4.7-6.1 Mill/mcL is considered normal for males
- 4.2-5.4 Mill/mcL is considered normal for females
- Lower numbers may implicate iron, folate, or vitamin B12 deficiency, and/or bone marrow damage
- Higher numbers could indicate renal problems, dehydration, and/or Credit: photo courtesy of US Navy, photo by: Photographerâ€™s Mate 3rd Class Jeremy L. Grisham, Source: Wikimedia Commonspulmonary or congenital heart disease
Hemoglobin – pigment that carries oxygen in the red blood cells:
- 13.8—17.2 g/dL is considered normal for males
- 12.1-15.1 g/dL is considered normal for females
- Lower numbers might indicate bone marrow damage and/or iron, folate, or vitamin B12 deficiency
- Higher numbers might indicate renal problems, dehydration, and/or pulmonary or congenital heart disease
Hematocrit – the percentage of red blood cells in the blood:
- 40.7-50.3% is considered normal for males
- 36.1-44.3% is considered normal for females
- Lower numbers could implicate bone marrow damage and/or iron, folate, or vitamin B12 deficiency
- Higher numbers could indicate renal problems, dehydration, and/or pulmonary or congenital heart disease
Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) – average size of the red blood cells:
- 80-95 fL (femtoliter) is considered normal range
- Lower numbers may indicate iron deficiency
- Higher numbers may indicate Vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiency
Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) – the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells:
- 27-31 pg (pictogram) is considered normal
- Lower numbers might indicate iron deficiency
- Higher numbers might indicate Vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiency
Platelet count - measures number of platelets which are the colorless blood cells necessary for clotting:
- 150-400 Thous/mcL is considered normal
- Lower numbers might indicate viral infections, leukemia, lupus, and/or perniculous anemia due to vitamin B12 deficiency and/or chemotherapy
- Higher numbers might indicate leukemia, inflammatory conditions and/or myeloproliferative disorders (cause blood cells to grow abnormally in bone marrow)
All of these test results may seem overwhelming. As previously stated, what is normal for one individual may not be the same as the average population. Many doctors want to get baseline lab results to help determine whether or not there is need for concern. Many patients are required to have regular blood tests for specific conditions. It’s important for health reports to be discussed with the primary doctor. Only then can it be determined whether or not the blood test results are of concern.
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