Top 8 Blood Tests and Why They Matter
According to new research performed by the Harvard School of Public Health, medical science is discovering the effectiveness of blood tests such as the C-Reactive Protein Test (CRP) as an early indicator of life threatening diseases which cause inflammation, and can detect diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline, and muscular degeneration.
Blood tests can be administered to help diagnose a particular condition, to assess the health of particular organs, or to screen for certain genetic conditions. They can detect a broad range of conditions from anemia to even cancer. More importantly, blood tests help health providers and patients find possible problems early on, when treatments and lifestyle changes can hinder possible life-threatening conditions.
Blood tests are common and when you have routine checkups, your doctor orders blood tests to check for certain diseases and conditions, to check the function of your organs, to learn whether you have risk factors for heart disease and, of course, to check whether the medicines you are taking are working.
Once a blood test has been analyzed by a technician, the results are handed over to your doctor and your doctor will then interpret the results and explain them to you. Often, blood tests cannot solely be used to diagnose a specific illness. Further tests may be required. Nevertheless, blood tests are useful and can help you and your doctors reach a diagnosis. Your doctor should always discuss any abnormal or unusual blood test results with you because the results may or may not indicate a potential health problem.
Types of Blood Tests:
(1) Complete or Full Blood Count (CBC)
The complete full blood count test (CBC) is a common blood test requested by a doctor or other medical professional that provides information about the cells in a patient’s blood. It provides a broad range of diagnostic information that can assess a patient’s kidney, liver and vascular health.
A complete blood count will typically assess:
• Total White Blood Cells
• Total Red Blood Cells
• Packed Cell Volume
• Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV): the average volume of red blood cells; conditions that might affect MCV include alcoholism, vitamin B12 deficiency, and/or folic acid deficiency
• Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin: the average concentration of hemoglobin in the cells
• Total Platelet Numbers
• Mean Platelet Volume
On its own usually, the complete blood count test cannot provide a definitive diagnosis of an illness or condition, but this test can glean important information and/or discover possible problems with a patient’s health such as:
• High Platelet Count: A possible sign of an inflammatory condition, infection or a problem with bone marrow
• Low Platelet Count: A possible sign of a viral infection or an autoimmune condition
• High White Blood Cell Count: May suggest an infection somewhere in the body, or possibly a sign of leukemia
• Low White Blood Cell Count: May suggest problems with bone marrow, a viral infection or more rarely, cancer of the bone marrow
• High Hemoglobin: May suggest lung disease or problems with bone marrow
• Low Hemoglobin: May suggest anemia
(2) Blood Protein Tests
Blood protein tests are administered to help detect certain abnormal immune system proteins that are sometimes elevated in people with myeloma, which is the cancer of the plasma cells. Plasma cells are white blood cells that produce infection or disease fighting antibodies. Thus, myeloma leaves the body’s immune system weakened and susceptible to infection.
(3) Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) – Men Only
The Prostate-Specific Antigen is a protein produced by the prostate gland in men. Elevated levels of the antigen may indicate an enlarged prostate, inflammation of the prostate, or even prostate cancer.
Although elevated levels of the antigen may not necessarily suggest cancer, elevated levels may suggest a urinary tract infection or inflammation of the prostate.
The American Cancer Society recommends annual Prostate-Specific Antigen testing for men beginning at the age of 50. The optimal range of prostate-specific antigen is 0 – 2.6 ng/mL. In a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, investigators recommended that “lowering the threshold for biopsy from 4.1 to 2.6 ng/mL in men younger than 60 years old would double the cancer detection rate from 18% to 36%.
(4) Tumor Marker Tests
Tumor markers are chemicals made by tumor cells that can be detected in a patient’s blood. However, because tumor markers are already being produced by normal cells in a person’s blood, tumor markers are limited in diagnosing cancer and further tests will be required.
(5) Circulating Tumor Cell Tests
Circulating tumor cell tests are experimental blood tests administered to find cells that have broken away from the original cancer site and are floating in the bloodstream.
(6) Homocysteine Tests
Homocysteine is an amino acid manufactured by the body during the metabolism of methionine. Elevated levels of homocysteine has been associated with increased risk of heart attack, poor cognitive function, and bone fracture.
An increased risk for coronary artery disease as been correlated with incremental increases of homocysteine. And according to studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, this amino acid has also become recognized as an independent risk factor for bone fractures, including hip fractures.
(7) C-Reactive Protein Test (CRP)
C-Reactive Protein tests are administered to help diagnose conditions that cause inflammation. CRP is manufactured by the liver and elevated levels of the protein suggests inflammation. Inflammation within the body can lead to a broad range of life-threatening degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline, and macular degeneration. By administering the CRP tests, you and your health care provider can respond appropriately to elevated levels of CRP by making changes in your diet, exercise regime, and supplementation to stop the threat of, or hinder, the development or progress of degenerative diseases.
CRP is a sensitive marker of systemic inflammation that has emerged as a strong predictor of coronary heart disease and other diseases of the cardiovascular system. The highly sensitive C-Reactive Protein test measures CRP in the blood at very early stages of vascular disease. Early detection allows appropriate intervention. This test is so sensitive, it is able to detect even small levels of inflammation and, fortunately, can identify at-risk patients earlier.
According to a study from the Current Problems in Cardiology Journal, high-sensitivity cardiac CRP was able to predict risk of incident stroke, peripheral arterial disease, myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death among healthy individuals who had no history of cardiovascular disease, as well as predict recurrent events and death in patients with acute or stable coronary syndromes.
According to the journal Circulation, “[a] single CRP measurement provided information beyond conventional risk assessment, especially in [men and women at intermediate levels of risk].” Furthermore, elevated levels of CRP has been linked to an increased chance of developing type II diabetes, confirmed by a study from the Harvard School of Public Health.
(8) Thyroid Function Test
The thyroid function test is administered to test levels of thyroid stimulating hormones to determine if a patient has an overactive or underactive thyroid. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) controls thyroid hormone secretion in the thyroid. Overactive thyroid activity, also called thyrotoxicosis, may be indicated by a decreased level of TSH. Underactive thyroid activity, or hypothyroidism, may be indicated by higher levels of TSH.
Signs of hypertyhroidism include rapid heart rate, nervousness and anxiety, weight loss, insomnia, and intolerance to hot temperatures. Signs of hypothroidism weakness, weight gain, fatigue, intolerance to cold temperatures and slow heart rate.
Blood tests are common and when you have routine checkups, your doctor orders blood tests to check for certain diseases and conditions, to check the function of your organs, to learn whether you have risk factors for heart disease and, of course to check whether the medicines you’re are take are working.