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What a blood test can tell you about your health

Last Modified: September 22, 2023

Family Medicine

Blood work

This post was written by Leslie Chaparro, lab specialist, Hematology, Parkview Health.

Bloodwork can reveal valuable clues and answers about the state of your health. There are two blood tests you can request without a physician’s order: a Complete Blood Count and a Complete Blood Count with differential. Both can provide valuable information about your health and be done through Parkview Health Laboratories without a referral. Let’s take a look at what these blood tests are, why you might want one and what information they can provide.

Complete Blood Count

A Complete Blood Count (CBC) is a common test that measures, counts and evaluates many different aspects of your blood, including:

  • Red blood cells (RBC), which are the cells that move oxygen to your body’s tissues and carry carbon dioxide away from your body’s tissues. Because the RBC count can indicate certain anemias, any abnormal RBC count should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
  • White blood cells (WBC), which are the cells that defend your body against invasion by foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. Because the WBC count can indicate infection, any abnormal WBC count should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
  • Platelets, which are used by the body to stop or control bleeding by helping to form small blood clots. Because high and low platelet values could indicate clotting problems, any abnormal platelet values should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
  • Hemoglobin (HGB), which is the iron-containing portion of red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body and removes carbon dioxide to your lungs. Because HGB levels can indicate certain anemias, any abnormal HGB level should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
  • Hematocrit (HCT), which is a measurement of how much of your blood is made up of red blood cells. Because the HCT count can indicate certain anemias, any abnormal HCT count should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

Red blood count indices

A Complete Blood Count also includes red blood count indices, which is a group of tests that is used to define the size and hemoglobin content of the red blood cells, including:

  • Mean corpuscular volume, which measures the average size of the red blood cells and indicates whether they’re small, normal or large.
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin, which measures the average amount of hemoglobin in a single red blood cell.
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration, which measures the average hemoglobin concentration per unit of volume.
  • Red cell distribution, which measures the differences in the volume and size of your red blood cells.

Abnormal results from the red blood count indices could indicate anemia, so it’s important to get evaluated by your provider.

Complete Blood Count with differential

A CBC with differential may be performed with the CBC as part of a general health check. This test dives a little deeper into your white blood count, measuring each type of white blood cell in your body, which can be used to help determine the cause of an abnormal white blood count. Any abnormal values should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Why would someone need a CBC?

Essentially, a CBC offers a look at the health of your blood cells and aids in the ability to diagnose and monitor many different conditions and diseases. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, or a combination of symptoms, it may be beneficial for you to have a Complete Blood Count performed:

  • Fatigue
  • Inflammation
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Cold extremities (hands and feet)
  • Chills/fever
  • Irregular breathing
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Blood in urine/stool
  • Heavy menstrual flows
  • Jaundice
  • Bleeding in gums
  • Unexplained weight loss

Can a CBC be used to diagnose diseases?

A CBC test is not diagnostic of any specific disease. That means that while your healthcare provider can use the findings from the CBC to help them diagnose disease states such as anemias, leukemias, allergic reactions, and viral, bacterial and parasitic infections, additional testing will need to be performed.

What do abnormal results indicate?

Results that come back as abnormal can be caused by a number of things including anemia, dehydration, malnutrition, bleeding, autoimmune disorders, bone marrow disorders, congenital diseases, infections, reactions to medications and more.

However, it’s important to note that hematology “normal” values can vary greatly depending on age, sex, race, diet, medications and demographics. That’s why it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about your results so you can understand the findings and whether additional testing should be done.

Learn more about how to complete Direct Access Testing by visiting us here.

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