How to Interpret Blood Work

By Michele Harvey
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Your blood keeps you alive, so it's only natural to want to understand your own blood work. Blood tests are ordered either as part of a routine checkup or for medical diagnosis and treatment. According to the Seattle Treatment Education Project, blood values are interpreted together because individual values don't always tell a complete story. Many factors affect blood test results.

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Understand that your complete blood count (CBC) is a routine test used to evaluate your general health. The most important values in your CBC include the measurement of your white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), hemoglobin, hematocrit, mean cell volume (MCV) and platelets.

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Read the WBC results and compare them to the normal range of 4,500 to 1,000. The function of WBC is to fight infection; a high count may indicate infection, while a low count can result from the use of certain medications.

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Observe the following normal ranges for RBC, hemoglobin and hematorcrit: RBC is 4.5 to 5.9 for men and 4.0-5.3, hemoglobin is 14.0 to 18.0 for men and 12.0 to 16.0 for women, and hematocrit is 40% to 54% for men and 37% to 47% for women. A low RBC count is usually accompanied by a decrease in the hemoglobin and hematocrit values and may suggest anemia, while a high RBC count often occurs with a high hemoglobin and hematocrit and may be caused by bone marrow disease, low oxygen levels or dehydration

Compare your MCV results with the normal levels, which are 80 to 96. MCV measures the size of your RBC; Vitamin B12 and folic acid deficiencies result in increases in MCV.

Look at the normal values for platelets, which are from 150,000 to 350,000. Platelets are necessary for blood clotting; low platelets can result from physical injury, infection or certain medications.

Observe the normal range for total cholesterol, which is 140 to 220. High levels of total cholesterol are associated with coronary artery disease, and low levels indicate possible liver failure.

Check your triglyceride levels. According to to Encyclopedia of Surgery, triglyceride levels increase with age. The reference range for adult males 20 to 29 years of age is 45 to 200, and for females of the same age group, the range is 37 to 144. High triglycerides increase heart disease risk and are associated with a number of diseases, including obesity,diabetes and hypothyroidism; low triglyceride levels are found in people with malnutrition.

Observe your lab results for the HDL cholesterol level. A result below 40 is low; a high HDL level is desirable for prevention of heart disease.

Find the results for your LDL cholesterol levels, which measure heart disease risk. An LDL cholesterol level over 129 is desirable, while LDL cholesterol levels ranging from 130 to 159 are borderline high and levels ranging from 160 to 189 are high.

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Fast before your blood test to check for an elevated fasting blood sugar (FBS) level; a level above 140 after an overnight fast (not eating anything after midnight) typically indicates diabetes. Normal fasting sugar levels generally run between 70 and 110. If you have an FBS above 140, your doctor may order a glucose tolerance test to confirm a diagnosis of diabetes.

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About the Author

Michele Harvey began writing professionally in 2004. Her writing, pertaining to the arts, appears regularly in "I Love Chile News." Since successfully completing two years of creative writing workshops, her poetry has appeared in several literary magazines, including "The Litchfield Review" and "The Wazee Journal." She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics and nutrition from Florida International University.