There comes a time in life when you should start worrying about what your blood is telling you. There are so many things that we can pick up on such as heart issues, stress issues, thyroid issues, and so much more. Here is a small list of must have blood tests that you should have as you get older.
Eight Must Have Blood Tests
1. Lipid Panel
We’ll start this one off with one of the obvious blood tests you should have. A lipid panel looks at your basic fat and cholesterol levels in your blood. It will tell you your overall cholesterol, your HDL, cholesterol to HDL ratio, and your LDL to HDL ratio. It also will tell you your triglyceride levels (amount of fatty acids in your blood). For accurate results this test is done in the morning after fasting.
What it won’t tell you:
The science is always evolving on the HDL/LDL debate and now there are two different kinds of HDL. There are also different kinds of LDL. A traditional lipid panel is very basic and will only give you a breakdown of your LDL, triglycerides, HDL, and total cholesterol. You need to ask your doctor to measure the cholesterol particles. Even with LDL there is good LDL and bad LDL. Your LDL could be high but if your LDL consists of primarily LDL-A, you need not worry. LDL-B is the bad one. There’s also one type of cholesterol that needs to be looked at called lipoprotein-a or Lp(a) for short. Lp(a) is highly inflammatory and toxic to your body.
The big takeaway from your lipid panel: Look at the lines of your triglycerides and HDL. Now compare the two. For example if your triglycerides are 150 and your HDL is 50 you have a ratio of 150:50 or 3:1…or…just three. The higher the ratio the more likely you are to be at risk for heart disease.
2. Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
This is one of my favorite blood tests. This one gives you a snapshot into your body’s metabolism. It can tell you how well your kidneys are working and it can also tell you if you’re dehydrated as well. It will look at your electrolytes such as sodium and potassium and let you know if you’re getting enough of either. It will also tell you how well your liver is working. High ALT/AST levels indicate that something is up with the liver so you should into that if possible. It also checks blood sugar. This test is usually done in the morning after fasting so if you have a high fasting blood sugar it might be a sign of diabetes.
What I think is one of the best things about a CMP is that it lets you look at your anion gap. It’s a simple calculation (you probably won’t want to do it so just ask your doctor) and if your anion gap is higher than 11 then it indicates your body is in an acidotic state. It could mean a number of things from respiratory issues, to infection, or even the foods you eat but if you’re an otherwise healthy individual you can change your eating habits to be in a less acidotic state. Less of an acidotic state = healthier for you.
3. Complete Blood Count
This is a basic test that usually goes hand in hand with a comprehensive metabolic panel. This test looks at your red blood cells, levels of hematocrit (ratio of red blood cells to plasma), your white blood count (and also specifically what type of white blood cells are high or low). The results of this test can indicate several things if they’re off such as infection, cancer, inflammation, anemia, and internal bleeding (1). If your results are not within the normal ranges, discuss the possible reasons with your primary care physician.
4. C Reactive Protein
Want to know if your body is in a state of inflammation? Not only does this detect hidden underlying infection issues but it can also signal pelvic inflammatory disease, bowel disease such as Chron’s or colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune disorders – even autoimmune disorders related to yep, you guessed it, food. Sometimes this test might also be ordered along with sedimentation rate which doctors also use as a marker for inflammation.
5. Hemoglobin A1c
Why should you add this to your routine blood tests? This test is a good indicator if you’re well on your way to diabetes or not. What this this test does is it looks at the average life of a red blood cell which is about three months. It compares this to the amount of sugar that the blood cell is basically holding on to. In a normal body, insulin would take that sugar and use it for other cells in the body where it wouldn’t be sticking to your blood cells. The higher the value the more resistant your body is to insulin and that could mean you’re on your way to diabetes. This is a great test to have as you age to see how well your body is still responding to insulin. Here’s how it breaks down (1):
1. Normal: less than 5.7%
2. Pre-diabetes: 5.7%-6.4%
3. Diabetic: 6.5% or higher
6. Thyroid Testing
Have your thyroid looked at. For this test the doctor will look at the function of your TSH levels. Why is your thyroid important? it helps control your body’s metabolism. Hypothyroidism (or low thyroid activity) is often associated with high cholesterol levels, fatigue, low heart rates, depression, cold intolerance, dry skin, constipation, and weight gain (with difficulty losing weight). Hyperthyroidism can be associated with irregular heart rhythms, reduced bone mineral density, heat intolerance, nervousness, insomnia, fast heart rates, muscle weakness, and difficulty gaining weight.
One test is called a TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone. This hormone regulates how much your thyroid works. A low TSH level will indicate hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid) while a high TSH level will indicate hypothyroidism where the thyroid is underactive. If a TSH level is off you may want to ask your doctor for a T3 or T4 test (or he might do one anyways) which looks into additional hormones secreted by the thyroid that control body functions.
7. Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) – For Men
What is a PSA test and why should men have this done? This blood test measures a specific protein released by the prostate gland. The higher the PSA level in the blood the more likely one is to have prostate cancer. However, just because a PSA level is high does not necessarily mean that you could have prostate cancer. There could be other reasons for the high levels so follow up with your primary care physician to rule out any life threatening causes.
8. Cortisol Levels
Ever heard of your adrenal glands? They’re little glands that secrete many different hormones in your body and have a major influence on your entire body from fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism, anti-inflammatory effects, immune function, emotional behavior, muscles, and your sex drive to name a few. The list goes on, though. Your adrenal glands can become overworked from too much stress – or even excessive coffee. Want to know if your adrenal glands might be in trouble? Just ask your doctor to test your cortisol levels. They can take a sample of your saliva – no blood required.
These are some of the basic blood tests that you should have done on your physical to keep tabs on your body. As with any results, discuss them with your doctor to try to determine the cause of any abnormalities. Often times they can be resolved with minor adjustments to your schedule, exercise routine, or nutrition. If they’re normal, then keep up the good work and check that blood again next year!
Do you have any questions of what your blood tests are telling you or do you think we should add any to this lest? Let us know!