Eating healthy foods, getting some exercise, sleeping enough, visiting your healthcare provider regularly — these are all things that you probably try to do or at least know you should try to do.
Another way to support your well-being is to get regular blood work done. This is a great way to get a snapshot of what's going on inside your body.
"With a simple blood draw and lab analysis of your blood, your healthcare provider can gain insight into everything from your general health to your risk for certain diseases to how well some of your organs are functioning," says Christine Marschilok, MD, a primary care physician at Main Line Health.
Here's what you need to know about some of the most common blood tests, including how often you should get blood work done.
What is blood work?
Blood work (also called blood testing) involves taking a small amount of your blood and looking at the cells, electrolytes, enzyme levels and other components in blood.
A person called a phlebotomist will use a needle and a tube to collect a sample of your blood from one of your veins — a procedure known as venipuncture. Other than a mild sting when the needle pokes you or some slight bruising, venipuncture is not risky.
"Blood can also be taken by doing a finger prick or a heel stick, though a heel stick is typically only done on newborns," says Dr. Marschilok.
Common blood tests
There are certain blood tests that are more common than others, and these are often a part of your routine checkup. Others may only be needed to check for specific concerns. That said, you should speak with your healthcare provider about which blood work is right for you.
Lipoprotein panel (or lipid panel)
A lipid panel is a kind of blood test that measures the cholesterol (a fat-like component of your cells) in your blood and gives insight to your cardiac health.
Your liver makes the cholesterol that your body needs to function. However, cholesterol is also found in foods like meat, eggs and dairy. If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, you are at a higher risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack.
A lipid panel will show the levels of:
- Total cholesterol
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ("bad" cholesterol)
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) ("good" cholesterol)
- Triglycerides (a kind of fat in your blood)
"Generally, your first lipoprotein blood test is done between the ages of 9 and 11 and then every five years thereafter until you turn 45 (men) or 55 (women)," says Dr. Marschilok. "After that, you may need lipid screenings more often, depending on your age, individual health and family history."
For lipoprotein blood work, your healthcare provider may ask you to fast for nine to 12 hours before the test.
Diabetes is a long-term health condition marked by high blood sugar (also called blood glucose) that affects more than 10% of the population in the US. It can cause other significant health problems, like heart and kidney disease and eye and nerve problems.
Simple blood tests to test for both diabetes and prediabetes include:
- Fasting and random blood sugar tests, which simply test your blood sugar at the time of the blood draw.
- Glucose tolerance test, where you'll generally fast overnight and then get your blood sugar tested before and after drinking a liquid that contains glucose. Today, this is generally only done to diagnose gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).
- A1C test, which is a blood test that shows your average blood sugar levels over the past three months.
If you don't have any risk factors for diabetes, blood work to screen for diabetes should begin at age 35 and be repeated every three years. Having risk factors may require you to be screened earlier and more often.
Other blood work
There are many other blood tests that your healthcare provider may order for you, based on your health, lifestyle and risk factors. Some commonly ordered blood work includes:
- Sexually transmitted disease (STD) blood work: STDs like HIV, syphilis and occasionally herpes can be diagnosed via a simple blood test. Your healthcare provider may recommend STD blood work depending on your age, sexual history and risk factors.
- Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC measures many of the most common aspects of your blood, like the red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin (a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen) and hematocrit (the percentage of your blood made of red blood cells). A CBC blood test can be done if there are any concerns for infection, anemia, blood cancers or other diseases and disorders.
- Thyroid tests: These blood tests check how well your thyroid gland is working. This gland makes hormones that impact almost every organ in your body. Having too much or too little thyroid hormone affects your entire body and can have wide-ranging symptoms, from depression to weight gain/loss to dry skin to fatigue.
- Comprehensive (CMP) or Basic (BMP) metabolic panel: Both of these tests measure the balance of chemicals in your blood. They give information on your metabolism, kidney health and other important body processes. These tests are usually done as a part of your regular checkup and can catch serious health problems.
Make regular blood work a part of your healthy life
Even if you feel well, routine checkups that include blood work are a vital part of staying healthy.
"Blood tests are a simple way that your healthcare provider can get a better understanding of what is going on inside your body," says Dr. Marschilok.
The information gained by regular blood work can help you and your healthcare provider make informed choices about the best steps to take for your personal health.
Make an appointment with Christine Marschilok, MD
Learn more about primary care services at Main Line Health
The top searched health questions this year (so far)