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How to read laboratory blood results

CBC. BMP. These are names of common blood tests your doctor may order. In fact, two of the most common blood tests are a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP) according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tests like these reflect your general health and give doctors a place to start in determining care. Deciphering them can be challenging.

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  1. Request a copy of your blood test results from your doctor. You can do this after you discuss the results with your doctor. It's always preferable to discuss lab results with your health practitioner first. Due to privacy laws, many times your test results cannot be sent directly to you from the lab itself. Make sure you have all the pages of your report and that they are in order. Check that you are reading the correct number for a result in case they extend over to the next page.

  2. Blood test results are typically listed by their name on individual lines in the test result pages. Each individual line typically has a number (your result) and also a range of numbers (the acceptable range for that test). Familiarise yourself with all of your results by looking at each page and individual line item. Depending on how many tests your doctor ordered, you may have just one line item for a single test or you may have several pages of lines for each individual test. This will be the case if your doctor is looking at many issues.

  3. Look for results that are flagged as out of the normal range. Typically, this notification is in the middle of the line for each individual test, between your result and the desired range, but it could be anywhere on the line. Its purpose is to notify you that your test result is above or below the desired result for the general healthy population. Use a highlighter to narrow down the results that are abnormal when there are multiple test results.

  4. Research the names of the test results and their meanings. One way to learn more is by asking your doctor questions. Look at both your normal and abnormal tests to determine what each test may be revealing. For example, your blood sugar count may be high, but your A1C (a test used to diagnose diabetes) may be normal. Both tests are used for the determination of blood sugar issues and therefore reveal different things. Knowing what both the normal and outside-normal results mean in these cases is beneficial.

  5. Determine where your test result number falls outside the normal acceptable limits for those tests that are flagged. Test results that are just outside a range may not alarm your doctor at all. Conversely, results that are still considered normal but are borderline may be of concern. Follow up with your doctor after reading your own blood results before reaching any conclusions.

  6. Tip

    Keep all of your test results in one place so you can refer to past results to view how things have changed over time.


    Researching medical conditions on your own can reveal potentially troubling information that may be inaccurate so always check with your doctor about your results.

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About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Gina Scott has been writing professionally since 2008. She has worked in real estate since 2004 and has expertise in pop culture and health-related topics. She has also self-published a book on how to overcome chronic health conditions. Scott holds a Master of Arts in higher-education administration from Ball State University.

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