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Blood Test or Executive Blood Panel

What Can You Learn from a Blood Testing?

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Using a Blood Test as a Part of a Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation

Table of Contents

When it comes to your health, getting the complete picture often allows a doctor to make the best decisions regarding treatments and lifestyle changes. While a doctor can use their eyes and tools like a stethoscope to examine you, sometimes it’s another test that reveals potential underlying conditions.

This can be the case for blood tests. A doctor may recommend a blood test for a wide range of symptoms you may be having. This article will help explain some of the most common blood tests, and how you can review and interpret your results.

Is There a Blood Test for Cancer?

There isn’t any one laboratory test that can help provide a definitive diagnosis of cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.1 This doesn’t mean that doctors don’t use blood tests to help them make a cancer diagnosis or check on a treatment’s progress. However, doctors won’t use blood work as the only way they diagnose cancer.

Researchers are working on tests that could help doctors detect cancer cells earlier. According to the National Cancer Institute, the FDA has approved one blood test that helps detect circulating tumor cells in the body.​​​1  There are many tests like this in development that may help doctors identify more cancer types.

Common Blood Test Abbreviations

Sometimes, a doctor or other medical provider will use quick terms or abbreviations to describe a blood test. Because they refer to these tests every day, it’s easy for them to forget that you might not know the abbreviations. You can always ask for a better explanation about how or why a doctor is ordering a certain test. This guide to some of the most common tests and their abbreviations can help too.

CBC Blood Test

CBC stands for complete blood count. This test measures the number of blood cells in your body. Examples of the blood cells it reports include:1 

Doctors may order this test if you have been having symptoms of anemia, or low blood counts, or a doctor suspects you may have an infection.

CBC with Differential

A CBC with differential gives the same results as a CBC, but further explains what types of white blood cells are present in the body. Sometimes, doctors may simply call this test a “CBC with Diff,” which is short for differential. A CBC with differential will also give values for the following white blood cells:
Each of these white blood cell types plays a role in responding to infections. When one of them is higher than expected, it can indicate to doctors the type of infection or illness you’re experiencing.

MCV Blood Test

A mean corpuscular volume (MCV) test measures the average size of the red blood cells in your body. In addition to the number of red blood cells, their size matters because blood cells that are too large or too small don’t work as well.​​​2 

RDW Blood Test

A red cell distribution width (RDW) test measures the amount and size of red blood cells. Some laboratory reports may call them erythrocytes.​​​3  Another name for this test is the erythrocyte distribution width.
The RDW blood test often appears as part of the CBC results. Doctors usually use these results to help diagnose anemia, but it’s also helpful in considering other medical conditions.

CMP Blood Test

A comprehensive metabolic panel or CMP test measures 14 individual values in one test. According to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, the CMP is one of the most common laboratory tests ordered in the United States.​​​4 
Examples of what’s tested in a CMP include:

A doctor may order a CMP for a variety of reasons because it tests so many things. Some examples include to monitoring or screening for conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or liver disease.

BMP Blood Test

A basic metabolic panel (BMP) is similar to a CMP but has fewer test results. A BMP measures 8 variables while a CMP measures 14.​​​4  A BMP doesn’t include measurements that usually impact the liver, including ALP, ALT, AST, and bilirubin as well as the protein measurements albumin and total protein.​​​4 
A BMP will return the following values:​​​4 

C02 Blood Tests

C02 blood tests are tests that measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of using oxygen. Your body carries carbon dioxide as PC02 and HC03 (also known as bicarbonate) in the blood. A doctor may order a C02 blood test (or evaluate it as part of your BMP) when you’re having problems breathing or have signs of a pH imbalance in your body.

Because C02 is linked with oxygen, you have different levels in your arterial and venous systems. Your veins carry deoxygenated blood to your heart. This means your C02 levels are going to be higher than arterial blood, which has more oxygen. Before you have a C02 blood test, ask your doctor if the blood will come from an artery or vein.

What Tubes Are Used for What Blood Tests?

Laboratory workers put specific blood tests into special tubes. Some contain chemical preservatives or chemicals that react with the blood in a certain way to make the blood easier to test. Laboratory workers may call the different tubes “tops.” You may see a person drawing your blood using a purple, green, or light blue top. Each is for different laboratory results. This explains why a laboratory worker may have to get more than one blood tube’s worth of blood for laboratory results.

The colors of the tops can vary by facility. Some may also require more blood for a test, making the blood tube longer or larger. Usually, most blood tubes won’t take more than 6 milliliters of blood. This is a very, very small percentage of your blood.

Preparation for Blood Work

Much of the time, all it takes for blood work is to show up and let the laboratory workers draw your blood. If it doesn’t matter if you eat or drink before, drinking plenty of water before you go may make your veins easier to find. If you get nervous over seeing needles or blood, be sure to tell the person who is drawing your blood so they can try to help you remain calm during the draw.

Fasting for Blood Work

Some test results may not be as accurate when you’ve had something to eat or drink before taking the test. This is the case for tests like cholesterol measurements. If you shouldn’t eat or drink before a test, a laboratory will usually try to schedule your appointment first thing in the morning. They will tell you not to eat or drink anything if it’s necessary for your test.

Can I Take Medication Before a Fasting Blood Test?

If your test is affected by a certain medication (for example, using insulin before a blood glucose test), a laboratory should tell you what medications to avoid or delay until after you’ve had your blood drawn.

Can I Drink Coffee Before a Fasting Blood Test?

Drink “clear liquids only” before a blood draw. The good news is doctors consider coffee (but only black coffee) a clear liquid. If you add milk or creamer to your coffee, it isn’t a clear liquid anymore because your body takes longer to digest the milk. When in doubt, it’s best to ask your doctor or laboratory to ensure you get the best results.

Blood Test Results

You will receive most blood test results in the report form. The report will explain what tests your doctor ordered and give your results, usually with reference ranges for normal values.

How Long Does Blood Work Take?

Blood work results can take a varying amount of time depending upon the laboratory and the test. For common blood tests, some laboratories can get results in an hour or less. If you’re having a less-common blood test, they may have to send your blood to a larger laboratory that tests for that specific variable. Send-out tests could take a week or more before you get results.
You can always ask the laboratory or your doctor about how long they think it will be before you get your results. This will help you get a better estimate of when you can expect to hear more information.

How to Read Blood Test Results

Blood test results can look different from laboratory to laboratory. Some labs use different normal ranges based on a person’s age, weight, and gender. Most of the time, a laboratory report after a blood test will contain a “normal” range, which the laboratory may also call:​​​1

According to the National Cancer Institute, when a healthy person takes a blood test, most laboratories expect a person’s lab values will fall in the normal range 95% of the time.​​​1
About 5% of the time, your results may fall outside this range.

RDW Levels

According to Healthline, a “normal” range for red cell distribution is 12.2% to 16.1% for adult females and 11.8% to 14.5% for adult men.3 Always read your laboratory’s reference ranges as they may define them differently.

RDW Blood Test High

When an RDW result is higher than normal, this value could suggest a diagnosis of:3

Doctors will usually compare RDW blood test results to MCV results to help make a diagnosis.

RDW Blood Test Low

Low RDW results are usually less helpful in making a diagnosis.3 This is because there aren’t many blood disorders that cause low LDW results. If your LDS results are low, it could be your body’s normal variation.

MCV Levels

A laboratory report should include a reference range for red blood cell sizes. Sometimes, the results may be less accurate if a woman is on her menstrual cycle because her blood counts may be slightly lower.2

MCV Blood Test High

Larger-than-expected red blood cells could indicate the following conditions:2

MCV Blood Test Low

Low or small red blood cells on MCV blood test results could indicate that you have a condition such as:​​​2 

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel Normal Ranges

Laboratory values can vary widely for CMP test results. Some laboratories may use percentages for results while others use different measurements, such as mEq/L or g/dL. Therefore, it’s best to look at each laboratory’s individual values when looking at a CMP.

Here are some of the potential normal reference ranges for the BMP results:4

Keep in mind also that just because your values are normal, this may not be where your doctor specifically would like your target values to be. Your doctor should review specific goals given your overall health, age, gender, and weight.

Key Takeaways

Blood tests can be very helpful for a doctor who’s making a diagnosis. But it’s important to remember that even if a blood test is in normal ranges, you can still have a certain medical condition. That’s why it’s best to review your results with your doctor so you can get a better understanding of what you should or shouldn’t be worried about about your test results.