Mastering The Mystery Of Lab Tests

A member of the Payson Senior Circle visits with Dr. Chris LeSueur at the April 16 Lunch & Learn. The doctor discussed understanding results of lab tests. He reminded the audience everything should be taken in context and warned us not to jump to the worst possible conclusions.

A member of the Payson Senior Circle visits with Dr. Chris LeSueur at the April 16 Lunch & Learn. The doctor discussed understanding results of lab tests. He reminded the audience everything should be taken in context and warned us not to jump to the worst possible conclusions. Photo by Teresa McQuerrey. |

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You go to the lab — either a commercial facility or at Payson Regional Medical Center — and they take your blood. Sometimes they also send you into the bathroom with a cup and tell you to follow the instructions on the wall.

With these fluids, they can unlock the mysteries of your body and tell you all about it.

The lab sends the results to your primary care provider. If you ask, you’re legally entitled to a copy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But beware. All those abbreviations and numbers and low-normal-high rankings can be very confusing, and in some cases, very scary.

A personal example — back in December, for our new health insurance at the Roundup, we all had to have a screening — weight, height, blood pressure and a blood draw. The information we were given from the tests told me, “Your blood test revealed elevated levels of liver enzymes which indicates liver inflammation. These enzymes are a part of liver biochemistry, however they are not always specific for liver disease. Abnormally high values for these enzymes can indicate anything from normal variants to the asymptomatic phase of a significant illness. Almost any medication, infection, or amount of alcohol intake can strongly influence the level of liver enzymes. A proper evaluation for why you have elevated liver enzymes should include a diagnostic work-up by your personal physician. Therefore, we recommend that you review your test results with your physician.”

My father died of liver disease at the age of 63 — like me, he was overweight and diabetic. Needless to say that little gem freaked me out.

I have not had a fully satisfying discussion with my primary care provider about it yet and since I don’t know what tests showed the liver stuff, I can’t inform myself.

As I said — BEWARE.

But there are glimmers of hope for understanding out there.

Dr. Chris LeSueur, DO, helped members and guests at the PRMC Senior Circle get a slightly better grasp on lab results at the April 16 Lunch & Learn. He also said the website labtests online.org helps explain the abbreviations and numbers and tests.

He said all lab results must be considered in context of the individual — what is normal for them, what they were doing before the test.

As an example, he said if your heart rate is racing, consider the context. Did you just finish a stress test — if so, that would make a difference in the interpretation.

Another example — everyone in a room can be given a test for strep and a shockingly large percentage would show positive for strep, but not have a sore throat — it is just something many of us have in our systems and it’s not a problem until (or unless) we get sick from it.

LeSueur said the five main reasons to get a diagnostic test are:

• Establish a diagnosis in symptomatic patients — for example, give an electrocardiogram to someone experiencing chest pain

• Screen for disease — do a PSA test in men older than 50.

• Provide prognostic information in patients with an established disease, such as getting a CD4 count in patients with HIV.

• Monitor therapy by either benefits or side effects, such as measuring the international normalized ratio in patients taking warfarin.

• A test may be performed to confirm a patient is free from disease — a pregnancy test is done to make sure it is not an ectopic pregnancy.

Lab tests can help a health care provider determine the probability of disease in a patient — for example borderline high blood sugar is an indicator of prediabetes. With that information, a doctor can recommend a modification of eating and activity habits to mitigate the possibility of the individual developing diabetes.

One way to help understand your lab tests — ask your doctor why they are being ordered. Is there something specific they want to check, or is it just a “routine” evaluation?

Remember, we are the masters of our bodies and have a right to know what’s going on with them.

Comments

Pat Randall 8 months ago

I went into the bathroom one night while in ER and was told to bring the cup out with me, which I did. When it was time to release me, some DR. came in said my blood, and urine tests were fine. I asked them how he knew that as the cup of urine was still sitting in the room where I had been for 3 hours. Was the blood test really mine? Question, question, question before you leave.

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