Blood draws – not the most pleasant of thoughts for most of us but something we, and even more so our senior loved ones, have experienced at some point to see if we are healthy, if our medications are working properly and if we are eating right.
After getting our blood tested, some of us will get a written report or, with the advances in electronic health, will get a real time notification on one of our electronic devices. Maybe the results will be presented in person or on the phone by our healthcare provider.
Many nod their heads in understanding when we get the results of our blood tests, but do we really know what they mean? How should we react to the information we are getting?
There are a variety of blood tests that our seniors will have run routinely to monitor health and the effects of various prescription medications. We will review them here so that you will understand the health data and what it may mean to your senior. Of course, you will want to fully discuss all your questions and concerns with the healthcare team but this might give you a baseline to help you guide your senior.
Common Laboratory Tests and What They Mean for Your Senior’s Health
Complete Blood Count (CBC) measures specific components in our blood and tells us about possible infections, anemia and the health of our blood cells.
- WBC – white blood cells help our bodies defend against infection. If our WBC is high, it usually signals infection (but not where), stress, inflammation, leukemia or cancer. If it is low, it could signal a viral infection or an autoimmune disorder or chemotherapy
- RBC – red blood cells work to carry oxygen throughout our bodies. If RBCs are low, there may be an iron, B12 or folate deficiency. If the RBCs are high, your senior could be dehydrated or have kidney trouble among other things.
- Hemoglobin – carries oxygen. If this is abnormal, the reasons are the same as for RBCs.
- Hematocrit – number of red blood cells. Again the results are the same for RBCs and Hemoglobin.
- Platelet count – number of blood cells that aid clotting. If the number is low it could be related to a viral infection, pernicious anemia, chemotherapy or lupus. If the value is high is might mean inflammatory issues, leukemia, or disorders causing abnormal growth in the bone marrow.
Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) measures kidney and liver function.
- Glucose – a measure of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar. A low value could also signal liver disease, excess insulin production or adrenal insufficiency. Hyperglycemia is high blood sugar. If the number is high, diabetes/pre-diabetes, pancreatitis or hyperthyroidism.
- BUN – this is the waste product from the liver which is filtered from the blood and excreted in the kidneys. If low, malnutrition may be likely. If high, points to kidney or liver disease or heart failure.
- Creatnine – waste produced by muscle metabolism. If low, indicates malnutrition. If high, indicates chronic or acute kidney impairment.
- Albumin – protein in blood that nourishes tissues and carries nutrients. If low, indicates malnutrition. If high, indicates dehydration.
- Sodium, potassium and chloride – electrolytes that keep your senior’s body in balance. If low, could mean your senior takes a diuretic, diarrhea, lung disease, or adrenal insufficiency. If high, dehydration, kidney disease, diabetes, or Addison’s disease are likely causes.
- ALP/ALT/AST – enzymes found in liver, bones and muscles. If ALP is low could mean malnutrition. ALT/AST not a concern if low. If high, could indicate bone cancer, hepatitis, excess alcohol or other toxins, muscle injury, bile duct obstruction or Paget’s disease.
- Bilirubin – pigment in the bile, digestive fluid made by the liver. If low, not a problem; but if high, would indicate liver disease, bile duct problem or red cell destruction.
We will review the lipid panel in a future post because the results can definitely be affected by lifestyle and diet changes leading to a positive impact on those numbers and heart health!
Because elders take more medications, their blood work is often in the abnormal range due to the effects of that medication. Diuretics can impact results of these values. Heparin can decrease your senior’s platelet count too. Sunburn can increase your senior’s WBC due to the inflammation it causes. A licorice lover can have a low potassium level. How a lab handles your senior’s blood specimen, such as did it sit too long, can also affect the reading.
It is a good idea to discuss with your senior’s doctor any abnormal results and the reasons why they may be altered. Some abnormal values could be anticipated due to any chronic medical conditions or medications, but other reasons that could require action need to be reviewed.
You can see by reading the reasons for high and low lab values that staying well hydrated and eating a wide variety of nutritious foods every day will help keep your senior’s blood work in acceptable limits.
Here’s to your senior’s health! (Raising a glass of water to your health!)