Understanding Your Lab Work
Lab tests, which usually include blood or urine samples, provide your doctor a window into many vital health markers and are relatively non-invasive. While lab work can pinpoint the cause of symptoms, screen for a disease, or confirm a diagnosis, lab results are often difficult for patients to understand. A long list of numbers that indicate both results and reference ranges can look more like a high school math test than useful health information.The following guide will help you interpret many of the more common lab tests.
What is a Normal Number?
The main question for every patient is, “Are my numbers normal?” Labs provide a reference range to determine if your lab numbers are considered normal. A reference range is determined by testing large groups of healthy people. Sometimes these tests are broken down by specific age ranges. For example, a group of healthy 40- to 50-year-old women may be given a specific test and the results averaged in order to create the reference range for that group.
If you numbers are higher or lower than the reference range, your doctor may use those numbers to make a diagnosis. They may also order further testing or repeat the test.
It is possible to have a result that is different than the reference range even though nothing is wrong. Certain factors can affect your results, such as a medicine you are taking, what you’ve eaten before the test, or the amount of stress you are under.
Three Common Lab Tests
While there are literally dozens of lab tests a doctor may order, we’ve explained three of the most common blood tests.
Glucose measures the level of sugar in your blood. A high glucose reading may indicate diabetes. Fasting glucose measures your blood sugar at a particular point in time, while and A1C glucose test measures average blood sugar levels over a three-month period. The normal range for fasting glucose is 60 – 99 mg/dl. A normal A1C reading is below 5.7 percent. An A1C between 5.7 and 6.4 percent indicates prediabetes.
Electrolyte tests measure your potassium, sodium, chloride, and CO2 levels. Electrolyte levels are regulated by the kidneys and can help screen for kidney disease or metabolic disorders. Electrolyte levels can influence your heart rhythm, muscle contraction, brain function, and metabolism.
High cholesterol levels indicate an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. There are three different cholesterol numbers to track.
- Total cholesterol – all the cholesterols combined. The target is less than 200 mg/dL. Lower numbers are generally better, but anything below 120 mg/dL is considered too low.
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – often called “good” cholesterol. The target number here is more than 50 mg/dL. For HDL, high numbers are better.
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – often called “bad” cholesterol. For LDL, 70 to 100 mg/dL is ideal. Lower numbers are generally better; however anything below 50 mg/dL is considered too low.
Discussing Test Results With Your Doctor
Understanding your lab results helps you discuss the next step in your diagnosis or treatment plan with your doctor. It also helps you and your doctor track health changes over time. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to explain any test results you don’t understand.
Get Connected with a Primary Care Doctor
The primary care doctors at LeBauer HealthCare are committed to helping patients understand important health information like lab results. If you are looking for a primary care doctor, call one of our convenient locations today to schedule an appointment.