Blog Originally Posted On CaptivaLab.com
Blood testing is an important part of regular health screening and, as such, is often included in annual physical examinations. Most physicians recommend both standard panels to patients as well as more in-depth screenings as warranted to best understand the state of a patient’s overall health and wellness. Testing the blood can offer deep insight, providing feedback on everything from organ functioning to the presence of diseases like HIV and diabetes.
Blood tests come in many different forms, and it’s not always easy for non-medical professionals to know which tests are most important. These blood tests are highly recommended for regular testing, offering a snapshot of the state of your health and providing guidance for future treatment or recommended lifestyle changes.
It is also important to note that while blood tests often involve drawing blood, this is not always the case; many common tests can be performed with a simple, non-invasive oral swab.
Complete Blood Count and Chemistry Panels
The most common blood test offered, CBC and chemistry testing provides a broad picture of your overall health with diagnostic abilities for common diseases. CBC tests evaluate blood cell, liver, kidney, and vascular status by examining levels of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and triglycerides. The levels detected in the blood can fall into three ranges: too low, normal, or too high. Depending on testing results, these levels can indicate the presence of conditions like high cholesterol.
CBC panels also screen for the concentration, quality, and number of platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells as well as blood glucose. Glucose testing is a key part of diagnosing diabetes, a condition that exists in approximately 30 million Americans. Some chemistry panels also include checking levels of critical minerals, like iron and potassium.
An alternative for assessing blood glucose status, hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c) tests measure blood sugar levels over the last two to three months. Despite the associations with diabetes, hemoglobin A1C tests are also a good predictor of heart disease risk for all individuals. High levels, over 4.5%, can also be a risk factor for strokes.
For those with diabetes, HbA1c screening is recommended every three to six months. As these tests are not subject to the same fluctuations experienced in daily blood glucose monitoring, they are able to provide a better overall picture of blood glucose control. Maintaining hemoglobin levels can mitigate some of the side effects of the disease.
A soluble protein found in blood plasma, fibrinogen is produced by the enzyme thrombin in response to tissue or vascular injury and plays a key role in blood clotting. As atherosclerosis and heart disease can be causes of fibrinogen development, researchers have determined that high fibrinogen levels can predict the likelihood of vascular conditions. This trend can also be noted in other diseases associated with inflammation, including rheumatoid arthritis.
For those with high fibrinogen levels, lifestyle changes, like a healthy diet, exercise, losing weight and quitting smoking, are often recommended.
A gland in the neck associated with metabolism, the thyroid plays an important role in the body’s use of energy. When thyroid levels are too high or too low, issues can develop that affect overall health.
The most common form of thyroid testing screens levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When levels are too high, hypothyroidism is likely; when levels are too low, hyperthyroidism may be the cause. When proper testing isn’t performed, those with mild thyroid problems may go undiagnosed for months or even years.
Both hyper- and hypothyroidism are indicative of more serious issues. Hyperthyroidism is associated with a reduction in bone density and atrial fibrillation, while hypothyroidism can contribute to cognitive dysfunction and high blood cholesterol.
TSH is not the only test recommended for those with suspected thyroid issues. For patients at a higher risk, physicians may also suggest six additional thyroid panels: Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, Free T4, anti-TPO Ab, and anti-Thyroglobulin Ab.
Estradiol and Testosterone
While traditionally thought of as hormones associated with sex, estrogen and testosterone can have serious effects when levels are not in line.
Estrogen, most commonly known as the female sex hormone, is required for biological function in both men and women. In women, increased estrogen can raise the risk of breast or endometrial cancer, while in men, it can lead to gynecomastia and difficulty urinating. Inadequate levels have consequences, too; low estrogen can diminish bone mineral density, leading to osteoporosis and vertebral fractures. Estrogen management is commonly used to mitigate side effects of menopause.
Testosterone is associated with male sexuality and is produced by the adrenal gland in both men and women. In men, sufficient testosterone can protect against abdominal obesity, depression, heart disease, and osteoporosis. In women, increased levels can contribute to hirsutism and PCOS. Recent studies indicate that low testosterone may also be associated with metabolic syndrome, low bone density, Alzheimer’s disease, and type two diabetes in both genders.
Optimal levels of testosterone can affect libido, overall cardiovascular wellness, metabolic health, and subcutaneous fat development. Those with abnormal levels may choose to utilize supplementation, such as with DHEA or pregnenolone.
Inflammation within the body is increasingly linked to numerous other issues, many of which are life-threatening, like heart disease, muscular degeneration, and diabetes. Regular c-reactive protein screening can identify inflammation levels in the body, alerting physicians to warning signs and guiding the development of diet and exercise regimens that can reduce symptoms.
C-reactive protein testing is particularly valuable in the evaluation of cardiovascular disease. Studies indicate that it is able to accurately predict the risk of stroke, myocardial infarction, peripheral arterial disease, and sudden cardiac death in otherwise healthy people. Testing can also identify risk factors for type two diabetes as well as the loss of cognitive ability and major depressive disorder.
Blood tests are a critical way of determining risk factors for disease, disease diagnosis, and treatment planning. With regular blood tests, performed via blood draw or oral swab, it is possible for primary care physicians and specialists to best provide appropriate care for patients.
*Information provided is based on independent research of the benefits of blood testing and not the medical opinion of Captiva Lab staff.