Blood screenings can assess overall health: Doctors often recommend annual blood tests as part of routine healthcare |

Blood screenings can assess overall health: Doctors often recommend annual blood tests as part of routine healthcare

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

A simple blood draw can tell a larger story about a person's overall health, which is why doctors often recommend patients get a blood test annually.

Blood tests can reveal how organs are working, whether infections or cancers are present and alert doctors of potential problems that require more tests.

"Blood chemistries can measure a lot of different things. The white blood cell count is telling us how our immune system is working. If it's high, you might have an infection going on," said Kyle Miller, doctor of pharmacy and the director of the pharmacy and pharmacy services at Memorial Regional Hospital. "Blood chemistries can measure how well our iron stores might be and how well we move oxygen in our blood. There are also certain things we analyze in blood chemistries that can tell us how well our liver and kidneys are functioning."

All that knowledge just from a blood draw, a simple and fast procedure, is why blood tests are often part of routine screening. Miller said it's important to talk to your doctor about which kinds of health screenings are right for you.

"Typically, for normal, healthy adults, checking blood chemistries on an annual basis is just a very good screening tool," he said. It's kind of the starting point for assessing your overall health."

What the results mean

Blood test results may fall outside what's considered the normal range for a variety of reasons. Abnormal results could be the sign of a disorder or disease, but factors such as diet, menstrual cycle, physical activity level, alcohol intake and medicines can cause abnormal results, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Abnormal results could include decreases or increases in blood cell counts. Red blood cells carry oxygen, while white blood cells fight infection.

Because a complete blood count is not a definitive diagnostic test, abnormal results typically require follow-up or additional tests, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, for an otherwise healthy person, results slightly outside a normal range might not be cause for concern.

"It's really important to look at the results with your healthcare provider," Miller said. "A lot of times, if certain things are out of range, it doesn't necessarily mean it's life-threatening or urgent, but maybe there are other symptoms or signs a patient is experiencing. A provider can work with you and evaluate that, which helps tell a little more of the story."

What blood tests measure

A complete blood count test measures several components and features of your blood, including the following.
• Red blood cells, which carry oxygen
• White blood cells, which fight infection
• Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells
• Hematocrit, the proportion of red blood cells to the fluid component, or plasma, in your blood
• Platelets, which help with blood clotting

Source: The Mayo Clinic

What the results may indicate

Abnormal blood chemistry test results can tell doctors a lot about what’s going on in the body. Most abnormal tests require further tests and follow-up, but following are some of the markers doctors look at in a blood test.

• Red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit: These three levels in a blood chemistry test all deal with red blood cells. If the three results are lower than normal, this signifies anemia. Anemia has many causes, such as low levels of certain vitamins or iron, blood loss or an underlying condition. If these three red blood cell-related levels are higher than normal, this could point to an underlying medical condition such as polycythemia vera — a cancer of the blood — or heart disease.

• White blood cell count: Low white blood cell count could be caused by a medical condition such as an autoimmune disorder, bone marrow problems or cancer. Some medications can cause the white blood cell count to drop. If the count is higher than normal, this could signify infection or inflammation, or an immune system disorder or bone marrow disease. A higher count could also be a reaction to medication.

• Platelet count: An abnormal platelet count, higher or lower, is often a sign of an underlying medical condition, or maybe be a side effect from medication.

• Cholesterol: High levels of LDL cholesterol or triglycerides could indicate increased risk of heart disease.

• C-reactive protein (CRP): This is a protein produced by the liver as part of the body’s response to injury or infection. It’s a sign of inflammation somewhere in the body, which could be a risk of heart disease.

• Blood glucose: This can indicate risk for or presence of diabetes.

Source: The Mayo Clinic