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Making sense of lab test results

Last Modified: November 29, 2023

Family Medicine


Lab tests play an important role in your health care. The results can help your provider make a diagnosis or decide on treatment options. However, your lab test result is only one piece of your health. When looking at your results your provider will consider other health factors including your symptoms, age, weight, physical exam and family history.

Making sense of your lab results can feel overwhelming. It’s important to talk with your doctor to get a clear sense of what your results mean for you. Background knowledge on why lab tests are done and how the results might be conveyed will help you discuss your results with your practitioner.  

Why did you have a lab test?

There are many reasons for lab tests. You may feel fine and still have a testordered by your doctor as part of an annual physical exam.

You may have a test to:

  • Find the cause of symptoms
  • Confirm a diagnosis
  • Screen for a disease
  • Find out how serious a disease is
  • Find out if a treatment is working
  • Make sure medicines are not causing a problem

How are lab test results expressed?

Lab test results are expressed in different ways. A test result can be:

  • Positive when something is present like how a positive pregnancy test detects the hormone that is present during pregnancy.
  • Negative when something isn't present like when a negative strep test means you don’t have strep.  
  • Inside or outside of the reference range of what is most common for that test. A reference range is a guide that is set by testing large groups of healthy people.

It's also possible for a test result to be false-positive or false-negative.

  • A false-positive result is one that appears to detect something when in fact it is not present.
  • A false-negative result is one that does not detect what is being tested for even though it is present.

What if your lab result is different than the reference range?

It is possible to have a result that is outside the reference range even though nothing is wrong with you. Your doctor may want to repeat the test or order another test to check.

Certain things sometimes can affect your test results including:

  • Pregnancy
  • A medicine you are taking
  • Fasting or eating just before a test
  • Smoking
  • Being under stress

Making sense of your lab test involves more than just knowing the numbers. When receiving lab test results always consult with your provider. They will look for any patterns of abnormal lab results and can tell you what your test results mean for you and your health.

To learn more about Parkview’s laboratory services, visit us here.



















Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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