You made the proactive decision to get blood work done, but now your lab results are in and you’re more confused than ever. Even if your doctor takes the time to explain them, you might find yourself forgetting the details as soon as you leave the office. Interpreting what each score means and why it matters to your overall health can seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
To help decode your lab results, we’ve put together a handy cheat sheet.
Test #1: Cholesterol Levels
Why You Need It: Keeping your cholesterol levels in check is important for a healthy heart and a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.
HDL Cholesterol: These are considered the “good” cholesterol levels, so the higher the better. Certain factors, such as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle, can result in lower levels. Some prescription drugs and genetic factors can also contribute to keeping this number low.
LDL Cholesterol: These are the “bad” cholesterol levels you should aim to keep as low as possible. However, your LDL number should no longer be the main factor that determines treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke, according to the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association.
Triglycerides: This is the most common type of fat in the body. High levels might indicate a build-up of fat deposits on your artery walls, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Total Blood Cholesterol: A number that is determined by adding your HDL and LDL levels with 20% of your triglyceride levels. An optimal score is less than 180 milliliters per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
Test #2: Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
Why You Need It: To check your kidney and liver function and your electrolyte levels. \
Glucose: Sugar in your blood. High numbers can indicate diabetes or pancreatitis; low numbers can indicate liver disease.
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN): A waste product carried from the liver to the kidney and then filtered out of the blood. In general, 7-20 mg/dL is considered normal, according to the Mayo Clinic, but the range could vary depending on your age and the reference range used by the lab. A low number might mean malnutrition; a high number can indicate kidney or liver disease.
Creatinine: The chemical waste of muscle metabolism. Since the amount of creatinine increases with muscle mass, men typically have higher levels than women. A range of 0.6- 1.3 mg/dL is considered normal. A high number might mean you have decreased kidney function. Be aware that this number can also increase temporarily if you’re dehydrated, eating large quantities of meat or taking certain medications.
Albumin: Protein that helps prevent fluid from leaking out of blood vessels and distributes nutrients throughout the body. A normal range for adult men is 3.5-5.0 g/dL, but the range may be slightly different for women. Low numbers indicate liver or kidney disease.
Bilirubin: Digestive fluid produced by the liver that shows up as a pigment in the bile. A normal range is 0.1-1.0 mg/dL. A high number might mean liver disease or bile duct disorder.
Test #3: Complete Blood Count
Why You Need It: To measure the various components of the blood essential for function.
White Blood Cell Count: These are the defenders against infection. Low numbers could signal an autoimmune disease and high number could be an indicator of infection or cancer. 3.5-10.5 billion cells per liter or 3,500-10,500 cells per microliter (mcL) is considered normal.
Red Blood Cell Count: These cells deliver oxygen to tissues throughout the body. A high number could indicate congenital heart disease. For a man, 4.32-5.72 trillion cells/L or 4.32-5.72 millions cells/mcL is considered normal. For a woman, a normal range is 3.9-5.03 trillion cells/L or 3.90-5.03 million cells/mcL.
Hemoglobin: The pigment in red blood cells that carries oxygen. A low count isn’t always a sign of illness, but it can indicate diseases such as cancer, cirrhosis, leukemia or iron deficiency anemia. A normal range for a man is 13.5-17.5 grams/dL or 135-175 grams/L; a normal range for a woman is 12-15.5 grams/dL or 120-155 grams/L.
Platelet Count: Your platelets are your blood cells that are responsible for clotting. Low numbers are associated with lupus and both low and high numbers can indicate leukemia. A normal platelet count is 150-450 billion/L or 150,000-450,000/mcL.