In the first part of this series, we discussed many of the more complicated laboratory values that reflected the function of the liver, kidneys, and other miscellaneous organ systems. This part will discuss more systems, including the blood, hormonal systems, and vitamins.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A complete blood count is often the most basic of tests. It gives the amount of red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and platelets.
- Red blood cells (RBCs) – RBCs are the cells in our body that carry oxygen to different parts of our body. When we have too few, not enough oxygen is delivered to different organs. When we have too many, it can be a sign of a bone marrow proliferative disease or a genetic disease.
- Hemoglobin – Hemoglobin is the molecule that is actually responsible for carrying oxygen. When doctors look for anemia, they are often looking at the hemoglobin.
- Hematocrit – This is a ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total volume of blood. It is a different way to understand the amount of red blood cells that are in the body. Hematocrit tells us both about the red blood cells and the volume status of a patient, meaning whether or not they have too much or too little fluid.
- Platelets – These cells are responsible for helping us clot. When we get hurt, platelets clump together to stop the bleeding. Too little platelets could be a sign of a proliferative bone marrow disease. Too little could be a sign of liver disease or some other disorder. If people have too few platelets, they could spontaneously start bleeding into their brain. This is an extreme example that happens to people with severe medical problems, but it is still a possibility that doctors prepare for.
- White blood cells (WBCs) – WBCs are part of the body’s immune system. If there are too few, this could be a sign of immune suppression. If there are too many, it could be due to an illness, inflammation, or a cancer. There are many causes of elevated WBCs, so doctors will often have to do many more tests to figure out which is the most likely cause.
The hormonal system involves the thyroid, reproductive organs, and certain enzymes that interact with other organs. There are many factors that may influence these hormones, so doctors prefer to check them depending on the symptoms.
- IGF-1 (Insulin Like Growth Factor) – This is a molecule similar in structure to insulin. It plays a part in growth as a child. In adults, it can be a sign of low thyroid function or liver disease.
- Testosterone, Free, Direct with Total Testosterone – There can be many causes of low or elevated testosterone. In women, elevated testosterone can be a sign of a congenital disease or a cancer. It men, lower testosterone can be a natural part of aging or a sign of a disease process.
- Estradiol – Estradiol is a form of estrogen. Much like testosterone, it can be high or low due to congenital diseases or cancer. It can also be affected by medications.
- Thyroid Panel – A thyroid panel consists of TSH, T3 and Free T4. These are all thyroid hormones that demonstrate how the thyroid is functioning. The doctor will use all of these factors together to know if the thyroid is working well, too much, or too little.
- Human Growth Hormone (hGH)/Growth Hormone (GH) – Human Growth Hormone is produced by the body to help us grow, as the name implies. Too little can be due to a genetic disorder. New research shows that there may be health benefits to hGH, but that research is ongoing.
- Hemoglobin A1c (Glycohemoglobin) – This is how doctors are able to tell the average blood glucose of a patient over the previous 3 months. Many diabetic patients are familiar with this test. If elevated, it is a sign that patients are experiencing insulin resistance and their average blood sugar is too high. If within a certain range, patients meet criteria for diabetes and are at increased risk for stroke and heart attack, in addition to many other consequences.
- DHEA-S (Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate) – This is a hormone mostly found in the adrenal glands. It helps to make other hormones, like testosterone and estrogen. Low DHEA-S is linked to aging. High DHEA-S in women may be linked to an issue with adrenal glands, like a tumor.
- Vitamin B12 – This is a well-known vitamin that is vital to wellbeing. Without it, people may have tingling and numbness and mood changes. Low Vitamin B may be a sign of malnutrition.
- Homocysteine – This is a metabolite related to Vitamin B12 and folate. Folate is another important vitamin. When folate is low, homocysteine is high. Because vitamin B12 and folate are molecularly similar, homocysteine tells a doctor which one the patient is deficient in.
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP) High Sensitivity – Elevated CRP is a sign of inflammation. It can be more or less elevated depending on the disease process. Doctors will often compare this with other signs of inflammation to decide what is most likely causing it.
Lab tests can be confusing, and patients may not know what the results mean. If you are interested in learning more about obtaining these labs, please contact our institute. We specialize in helping you better understand your health.