No matter how healthy you may be, getting regular blood work done is an important step in measuring and monitoring what's going on inside your body. Routine blood tests are important for identifying trends that may be putting you at risk, as well as diagnosing conditions and diseases earlier – when they are most treatable. Ask your doctor if and when you should have these 10 tests:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
If you've watched any medical shows on television, you've likely heard characters order this test hundreds of times. There's a good reason for that: a CBC measures the levels of 10 different components of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Important components measured include red blood cell count, hemoglobin and hematocrit. The test identifies issues with infections or inflammation, clotting abnormalities, anemia, nutritional deficiencies, blood cancer, immune system disorders and more, so your doctor can order follow-up tests if necessary or make a diagnosis.
- Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP)
Sometimes referred to as a blood chemistry test, a BMP measures different naturally occurring chemicals in the blood. These tests are conducted using the plasma (the fluid part of the blood comprised of water, salt and protein), and include blood glucose, calcium, electrolytes, and kidney function.
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)
A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) includes all of the measurements of a BMP, as well as additional proteins and substances related to live functions. It will also alert you if there are disturbances in your blood sugar levels, protein levels, and the overall acid/base balance in your body. Doctors often use CMP to monitor the progression of diabetes, high blood pressure, and liver or kidney damage.
- Lipoprotein (Lipid) Panel
This is an important test for heart health, since it measures your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are strongly linked to heart disease. It is often confusing because it measures total cholesterol, which is comprised of both HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol). Normal levels vary by age and sex, so it's important to talk to your doctor about what your numbers mean. If your LDL is too high or HDL is too low, your doctor will recommend lifestyle modifications or medication to keep the numbers in check.
Often shortened to A1c, this is an important test for monitoring blood glucose levels over a period of time and diagnosing pre-diabetes or diabetes, as well as managing existing diabetes. While a fasting blood glucose test measures the amount of glucose present at that specific time, an A1c indicates the average blood sugar level over a period of about three months. In addition to being used to diagnose diabetes, the A1c can also indicate increased risk for heart disease.
- Blood Enzyme (Cardiac Biomarkers)
Enzymes are proteins that help your body with certain chemical processes, including clotting blood. There are many types of blood enzyme tests, but troponin and creatine kinase (CK) are used to check for heart attack. Another test called CK-MB is often used to see if the heart muscle has been damaged.
- Vitamin D
Did you know that vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world, and is especially prevalent in the U.S.? Correcting a vitamin D deficiency is relatively easy, and can be accomplished through additional sun exposure or adding more vitamin D-rich foods to your diet. A simple blood test can tell you if you need more vitamin D to help keep your bones and muscles strong and healthy.
- Thyroid Panel
Thyroid hormones control your metabolism, and affect your cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity. An underactive thyroid can result in weight gain, lethargy, and even depressed mood. An overactive thyroid can result in weight loss, tremors, and rapid or irregular heartbeat. A TSH test is the most common measurement of thyroid function, but adding a T3 and T4 test provides additional information your doctor may need to make an accurate diagnosis.
- Inflammatory Markers
Although inflammatory markers are seldom checked at routine check-ups, it's worth asking your doctor if you should have a hsCRP test to measure your general inflammatory status. An elevated level indicates an inflammatory response in the body – which could be caused by physical trauma, emotional stress, oxidative stress, allergy, sedentary lifestyle and more. Since an elevated hsCRP level can increase your risk of cardiac problems and other health issues, it might be important based on your age and health history.
- DHEA Sulfate Test (DHEAS)
This test measures the levels of DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate) – a steroid hormone found in all sexes. The adrenal glands produce DHEA sulfate, which the body then converts into estrogen and testosterone. High levels may cause menstrual abnormalities in women, infertility, and excessive hair growth; low levels may cause erectile dysfunction in men, as well as low libido, dizziness and weight loss.
Not everybody will need all of these tests, and the frequency of when you get them depends on your personal health history and risk factors. Knowing what tests are available can help you have a more informed conversation with your doctor, and determine what screenings might be right for you.
This article first appeared in the March 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.