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Blood Chemistry Tests: What They Tell Your Doctor

Guest Author - A. Maria Hester, M.D.

When you go to the doctor she may run a series of ‘routine tests’. However, there are different tests that paint completely different pictures. For instance, a CBC (complete blood count) is used to measure the level of various blood cells, such as white blood cells and red blood cells. On the other hand, a chemistry panel measures the level of various electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) and other chemicals in your blood. This article focuses on chemistry panels and their significance.

Indications: Serum chemistry tests can be quite basic or very extensive. Some panels include 6 or 7 tests while others may have 20 or more. A basic chemistry profile focuses on the most vital blood chemistries, such as blood sodium and potassium levels and evidence of kidney disease. On the other hand, comprehensive profiles include more tests, such as test to assess the function of your liver. These tests give a more detailed picture of your overall health.

There are numerous chemical substances in the blood. A major aberration in the concentration of certain ones can be immediately life-threatening. For instance, when the blood sodium level is very high it can lead to coma, or even death. On the other hand, an abnormal level of another chemical substance in the profile may simply be the result of a diseased organ, but of itself is not dangerous to the body. An example of this is elevation of the enzymes ALT or AST. Elevation of either or both of these enzymes is an indicator of liver inflammation, which can be due to many different causes.

Potential Risks: This simply requires routine venipuncture, so the risk is minimal.

Terms your physician may use when discussing this test with you:
Alkaline phosphatase - an enzyme that, when elevated, typically signifies liver or bone abnormalities
ALT - an enzyme that is marker of liver abnormalities
AST - another enzyme that is a marker of liver abnormalities
bicarbonate - an indicator of the acid-base balance of the blood
BUN (blood urea nitrogen) - a substance that mainly indicates how well the kidneys are functioning
chloride - an important chemical in the blood
creatinine - a substance that indicates how well the kidneys are functioning
glucose - blood sugar. A sustained high glucose level indicates diabetes. (Anyone can have an elevation of the blood sugar level just after eating.)
hypercalcemia - a high blood calcium concentration
hyperkalemia - a high blood potassium concentration
hypernatremia - a high sodium concentration
hyperuricemia - a high blood uric acid concentration. Uric acid is the substance that leads to gout.
hypokalemia - a low blood potassium concentration
hyponatremia - a low blood sodium concentration

Editor recommendation:
ThePatient Whiz is a credit card-size 1 GB USB flash drive that easily fits into your wallet to empower you to keep copies of EKGs, lab results, medications lists and much more with you at all times. It doubles as a patient empowerment tool with articles such as the one above.
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Content copyright © 2015 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.


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