By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC
Today’s column is a short lesson on labs—why they are ordered and what they mean. Most patients think of them as very mysterious and difficult to understand, but nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on your current medical problems, your health care provider will order certain lab tests, which can provide a wealth of information. Routine tests include a CBC, or complete blood count, which will give you levels of RBCs, or red blood cells, HGB, or hemoglobin, and HCT, or hematocrit. These tests can help diagnose anemia, so if your HGB and HCT are low, you are anemic. However, there are different kinds of anemia, so you have to look at the MCH and MCVH levels to determine the kind of anemia. If these level are both low, it is an iron deficiency anemia. If they are both high, it is a B12 or folic acid deficiency. A high RDW level will also point toward a diagnosis of anemia.
The CBC will also give you a WBC or white blood cell count, which if elevated, will suggest an infection; however, one has to look to the section in the report, which gives the SEGS and LYMPH levels. If the SEGS are higher than the LYMPHS, this is called a “left shift,” and indicates a bacterial infection. If the two levels are about the same, the infection is probably viral, and not susceptible to antibiotics.
Another significant value found on the CBC is the platelet level, which can be used to diagnose bleeding problems. Elevated eosoniphil levels indicate that here is an allergic response being mounted by the body. So as you can see, reading your labs is easy and is helpful in taking control of your health. Next week, we will delve into another routine blood test, the CMP, or complete metabolic profile.