Blood tests are one of the most valuable diagnostic tools your doctor uses. Because blood travels throughout the body and because so many elements in blood can be analyzed, blood tests can provide information on diseases, medical conditions, infections, and the health of various body systems.
There are four basic blood tests your annual checkup should include that can literally save your health. They are a blood pressure check, blood count, blood chemistry and a cholesterol check. These simple tests can reveal potential health problems before they become serious.
Regular monitoring of your blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is measured as two numbers – the systolic pressure (as the heartbeats) and the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes). It is recorded with the systolic number on top and the diastolic number below, such as 120/70.
High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because there are no symptoms. In fact, one-third of those with high blood pressure don’t know they have it. Untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and in some cases, blindness.
Complete blood count. A “CBC” is the most common blood test doctor’s order. Blood is made up of several different types of cells carried in fluid called plasma. This test measures how much blood is in your system and analyzes the three major types of blood cells: red blood cells (hemoglobin), white blood cells and platelets.
This count can reveal if you are anemic, have abnormal blood cells or poor nutrition. It also reveals signs of infection. Anemia, a low red blood cell count, is a sign of many underlying health problems. When hemoglobin levels are low, there are fewer cells to carry oxygen to the cells.
Blood chemistry test. A basic blood chemistry test will screen for diabetes, kidney function and the level of sodium and potassium in your blood. A more extensive chemistry test evaluates your liver function and calcium level, among other things.
Cholesterol test. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance present in every cell in the body and in some foods. While some cholesterol in the blood is necessary, too much can lead to heart disease. One in five people have high cholesterol, even those who are fit and exercise regularly. Genetics, as well as diet, may play a factor high cholesterol counts.
Testing your blood for a fasting lipo panel will give you an overall cholesterol count, and a count of your HDL (“good” cholesterol), and LDL or (“bad” cholesterol). It will also show your triglyceride level (the fat circulating in the bloodstream). A total cholesterol count of 200 or higher is an indication of high cholesterol. Sometimes changes in lifestyle and diet can lower cholesterol. When this doesn’t work, your doctor may prescribe a drug that successfully lowers cholesterol.
Marilyn Ranson is a public relations specialist with NorthBay Healthcare in Fairfield, which is a partner of the Solano Partnership for Better Health.