If you've gone to the doctor recently for a physical or annual check-up, you've probably been given a copy of your lab results. And it may have looked like a foreign language to you, with all the acronyms, abbreviations, and numbers. Although the look of lab results will differ depending on the lab performing the test and what is being tested, there are common abbreviations and standard ranges used for lab values. The following are some common lab results you may see, how they are abbreviated, what the normal range is, and what exactly these values can tell you about your health.
Albumin: Normal range 3.5 - 5.0 g/ dL
Albumin is the most abundant protein in the blood and is used as an indicator of protein status. It can appear increased if you are dehydrated. Low albumin can occur with inadequate protein intake or absorption, with liver disease, or because of excess bleeding. Albumin can also be low in cases of cancer or other illness.
Ca++: Calcium. Normal range = 8.5 - 10.5 mg/ dL.
Calcium is one of the major nutrients necessary for making and keeping bones hard and healthy. Good sources of calcium are: fat-free and low-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt; tofu made with calcium sulfate; sardines; and fortified cereals and juices.
25 (OH)D: Vitamin D. Normal = 30.0 - 74.0 ng/ dL.
Vitamin D is necessary in order for the body to absorb calcium. Therefore, like calcium, a deficiency in Vitamin D can also lead to bone damage. Vitamin D can be obtained 3 different ways, the first of which is through 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure each day. The second is through foods high in vitamin D such as: fatty fish like mackerel, tuna, or salmon; egg yolks; fortified milk, soymilk, juices, or cereals. If vitamin D is not obtained through the sun or through food, a daily vitamin D supplementation is an alternative.
Glucose: Blood glucose, blood sugar. Normal range: 70 - 100 mg/ dL.
Glucose is produced when carbohydrates are digested. It is the main source of energy for our bodies. Blood glucose is elevated in uncontrolled diabetes and with dehydration, but can also be elevated because of non- nutritional factors such as stress, infection, and smoking. Low blood glucose occurs when too much insulin is circulating in the blood, which can be caused by overproduction of insulin following a large, high-carbohydrate meal in non-diabetics or by insulin overdose in diabetic patients. Low blood glucose can also occur with fasting, malnutrition, liver disease, and some endocrine disorders.
Hgb A1C: Hemoglobin A1C, Glycosylated Hemoglobin. Normal range = 4.0 - 6.0%, good diabetic control = <7.0%
Hgb A1C is a blood test the shows blood glucose concentration in the past 120 days. It is used to evaluate blood glucose control in diabetics. High levels of Hgb A1C increase the risk of developing eye, heart, or kidney disease, nerve damage, or stroke.
Chol: Total cholesterol. Optimal range = <200 mg/ dL.
Cholesterol is a necessary component in the cell membranes of all animals (that means us!). It is used by the body to produce steroid hormones like estrogen and testosterone and to produce bile, which aids in the digestion and absorption of dietary fat. In addition, it is cholesterol contained in the skin that, combined with UV rays from the sun, produces vitamin D. On the flip side, too much cholesterol in the body is a very bad thing. Studies have shown that high serum (blood) cholesterol is one of the key causes of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), stroke, and deaths related to these diseases. High total cholesterol levels come from a high fat/ high cholesterol diet and uncontrolled diabetes.
HDL: High density lipoprotein. Optimal range = > 40 mg/ dL.
HDLs are known as the "good" cholesterol, because they act like scavengers in our bodies, picking up excess cholesterol and transporting it back to the liver for disposal. High levels of HDLs in the blood are associated with a decreased risk of CHD. The only way to increase HDLs is through exercise, loss of excess body fat, moderate alcohol consumption (less than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men), smoking cessation, or estrogen therapy. What we eat, however, does have the ability to decrease HDL levels. Having a poor diet, especially one high in refined carbohydrates, uncontrolled diabetes, being overweight, smoking, lack of physical activity, certain medications, and genetics are all factors that can lower HDLs.
LDL: Low density lipoprotein. Optimal range = < 100mg/ dL.
LDLs are known as the "bad" cholesterol, since they are the primary carriers of cholesterol in the blood. They are linked to CHD development, heart attack, and stroke. The same factors that increase total cholesterol (high fat/ high cholesterol diet and uncontrolled diabetes) also increase LDLs, along with obesity, genetics, aging, and reduced estrogen levels. It is important to remember that a decrease of just 1mg/ dL in LDL cholesterol results in a 1-2% decrease in the risk for CHD.
TG: Triglycerides. Optimal range = <150 is desirable, 150 - 199 is borderline high, 200 - 499 is high, and >500 is very high.
Triglycerides are formed by the body in order to transport and store fat. Elevated TG levels are a risk factor for CHD. Factors that increase TGs include an excessively high-fat/ high refined-carbohydrate diet, elevated estrogen levels, alcohol consumption, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, and kidney and liver diseases. In addition to addressing these factors, TGs can also be controlled through exercise and smoking cessation.
WBC: White blood cell count, leukocyte count. Normal range = 8,300 - 10,800/ mL.
Our bodies produce higher than normal amounts of white blood cells in the event of infection, allergic reaction, stress, burns, or leukemia. Low white blood cell counts can also occur at times, in the presence of conditions like bone marrow failure, liver or spleen diseases, or radiation therapy.
Regular lab reports can be an extremely useful tool in evaluating your health. Now that you have the lowdown on lab values, you have the ability to interpret your lab report and take charge of your own health. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or dietitian any additional questions you may have.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Banser is currently completing a dietetic internship with National HealthCare Corporation of Murfreesboro, TN. She hails from Merrill, WI and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a double major in Dietetics & Family Life Education. Upon completion of her internship in June, she plans on working as a Registered Dietitian in long-term or acute care.