An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but routine health exams are actually pretty important when it comes to keeping your health in check. Aside from the physical examination, a wellness visit gives you the chance to ask any questions you may have on matters pertaining to your health. What’s more, your healthcare provider will often order a panel of lab tests to ensure your body is working as it should. These tests provide an inside look at how the different parts of your body are functioning and can be pieced together to form a picture of your overall health.
Still, you may be wondering what exactly are these routine tests and what do they measure?
Here’s a brief look at the most common routine lab tests ordered by a healthcare provider to give you a better understanding of what they reveal about your health.
Urinalysis (UA)– A Snapshot of Kidney Health
Your kidneys, two bean-shaped organs located in your upper abdomen, act like a filter for your body. They produce urine to regulate your body’s water and salt balance and remove waste. By examining the chemicals and protein in your urine, you can learn how well your kidneys are functioning and check for any infections of the urinary system.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A CBC is one of the most common lab tests a doctor will order. This test measures the different types of blood cells produced by the body. By evaluating hematocrit and hemoglobin, the CBC can make sure you have adequate levels of red blood cells (RBCs), the oxygen-carrying part of the blood. White blood cell count (WBCs) can give information on the immune system, including the presence of infection and certain types of cancer. The CBC also includes a measure of your platelets, the clotting cells in your blood.
There are many reasons why a CBC may come back as abnormal. The exact type or types of cells which are abnormal and the kind of abnormality (too high or too low) can help a doctor narrow down the causes.
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)
A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) is not just a mouthful to say; it’s a long list of lab values related to various organ systems within the body. This panel measures electrolytes (electrically-charged minerals) like sodium, potassium, chloride and calcium, to name just a few. These electrolytes are kept within a specific range by your body’s organs such as the kidneys, the parathyroid glands, and the lungs. This panel also includes measures of enzymes made by your liver (AST and ALT) which help indicate liver health, your total protein levels, and indicators related to kidney health like creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels. These labs are important because some diseases of the kidneys and liver may not have any symptoms in the early stages; early detection of potential problems can prevent long-term complications.
A CMP also includes a measure of glucose, sometimes referred to as “blood sugar.” When fasting for 12 hours before testing, a glucose check can be used to determine if you have diabetes or if you may be at higher risk for developing the disease in the future. The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends routine glucose screening in adults between 40 and 70 who are overweight or obese, but there are many reasons to screen some individuals who do not have those risk factors.
To Gain a Better Picture of Health, Consider Checking Lipids and HgbA1c
The Lipid Panel – Keeping Your Heart Healthy
Lipids are another name for the fats in your blood. Everybody needs some amount of fat in order to make energy. However, too much of some types of fat can create a build-up in the walls of your arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis which can lead to cardiovascular disease. A lipid panel, like the ones offered in our Expanded Wellness and Heart Health packages, can measure the amount of each type of lipid in your blood. This information can be used to determine your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other problems caused by cardiovascular disease. Knowing your lipid measures can give you and your doctor insight to make diet, exercise, or medication changes that might aide in lowering your risk and keeping you healthier in the long-run.
Hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) – An Expanded View of Diabetes Risk
Hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) can provide a better picture of your diabetes risk than a singular glucose measure. While a single check of glucose can sometimes detect potential problems, there are people with diabetes or at high risk for developing diabetes who might have a normal glucose at the time of testing. However, HbA1c gives information about your average blood sugar levels over the course of three months. This number can be used to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar that falls just short of the diabetes range).
Special Considerations for Men and Women
Testosterone – The Male Sex Hormone
In addition to the measures in the Expanded Wellness Package, Labcorp OnDemandTM offers a Men’s Health Package that includes a testosterone level. In men, this hormone regulates sex drive, muscle mass, energy, and even mood. Having low testosterone has been associated with several conditions including diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity. The older men get, the more likely they are to develop low testosterone levels. While routine testosterone screening has not yet been adopted by physicians, it should be considered for men who are experiencing changes such as decreased sexual symptoms, decreased energy, difficulty thinking clearly, depressed mood, or diminished strength.
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – A Measure of the Thyroid
By checking your thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), you can get a better idea of how well your thyroid is working. This small gland in the neck controls metabolism, which affects energy levels, mood, weight, and sleep. Women are at higher risk for having problems with their thyroid, which is why they should consider testing their thyroid more regularly. For more information, see [link to approved thyroid post here].
The Right Labs for You
Even physicians can disagree over who needs which labs and how often. That’s why we believe that sometimes the process should be up to you. By selecting and testing what matters to you, you can begin to take charge of your own health. It can also help open the door to discussing any questions or concerns that come up as result of testing with your trusted healthcare provider.
- “How your kidneys work.” National Kidney Foundation. 2019. https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/howkidneyswrk
- George-Gay, B. and Parker, K. “Understanding the complete blood count with differential.” J Perianesth Nurs. 18 Apr 2003;18(2): 96-114.
- Freeborn, D. et al. “What are platelets?” Health Encyclopedia, University of Rochester Medical Center. 2019. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1...
- “USPSTF A and B recommendations.” U.S. Preventative Services Task Force. Jul 2019. https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Name/uspstf-a-and-b-r...
- Pippitt, K. et al. “Diabetes mellitus: screening and diagnosis.” Am Fam Physician. 15 Jan 2016;93(2):103-109.
- “Diabetes tests & diagnosis.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. Dec 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/tests-dia...
- Petering, RC and Brooks, NA. “Testosterone therapy: review of clinical applications.” Am Fam Physician. 1 Oct 2017;96(7):441-9.
- “Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).” National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Aug 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hyperthy....
- “Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).” National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Aug 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hypothyr....