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Research / Guides

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Jan 04, 2019
Last Modified Date: Jan 04, 2019
Published Date: Jan 02, 2019


Chapter 1: What Lab Testing Can Determine About You Chapter 2: Wellness Check ups Chapter 3: Metabolic Disorders Surprises: An example of Wellness Testing Chapter 4: The 10 Blood Tests You Need To Ensure Optimal Health Chapter 5: Tracking Your Health Data: What You Should Know Chapter 6: General Lab Testing Chapter 7: Why Do You Fast Before A Blood Test Chapter 8: Human Anatomy - Major Organ Systems Chapter 9: Our Research

What Lab Testing Can Determine About You

Sample collection is quick and easy

Just what can your doctor determine about you by ordering lab tests? Lab test results can tell you and your doctor a lot about your health and well-being, helping to detect health risks, diagnose diseases, infections and health conditions. In many cases, these provide information that helps you improve your health. Of course, what blood testing can determine about you depends on the specific tests performed. Below is more information about what some lab tests can reveal.

Common Health Concern Guides and Resources

Anemia Resources

Anemia: The Basics

Arthritis Resources

Arthritis Common Questions

Blood Typing Resources

What You Need To Know About Bloods Type and Your Health

Cancer Resources

What You Need To Know About Cancer and Cancer Testing

Diabetes Resources

About Diabetes and Diabetes Testing

Heart Disease Resources

What You Need To Know About Cholesterol And Cardiac Disease

Hormone Resources

Hormone Imbalance And Hormone Level Testing

Immunization Resources

Immunization Resources And Testing Information

Infectious Diseases

Not every infectious disease comes with obvious symptoms. Lab tests are one of the most effective means of ensuring early detection and treatment for a number of fairly common ones. Among these are sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, HIV, herpes simplex virus and hepatitis B and C. Other infectious diseases that can be difficult to detect without blood testing include Lyme disease, valley fever, infectious mononucleosis and tuberculosis, among others.

Kidney Concern Resources

Kidney Health And Kidney Function Basics

Liver Condition Resources

Liver Health and Liver Failure

Overall Health

A number of blood tests are done as part of a routine health check-up, for both men and women, to help your doctor evaluate your overall state of health and well-being. Among the most common blood testing done in routine health screenings are:

Complete Blood Count (CBC) – This test measures the concentration of white blood cells in your body, the number of red blood cells you have and the amount of hemoglobin they carry, and your level of platelets, among other factors. These assessments can aid in detecting infections, anemia, clotting disorders and leukemia, among other conditions.

Basic Metabolic Panel – This test looks for blood test indicators that reveal how well your heart, kidneys and liver are functioning, evaluates blood glucose levels to screen for diabetes or pre-diabetes, and checks levels of calcium and electrolytes.

Lipid Profile – This routine blood test assesses your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, important indicators of your level of risk for cardiovascular diseases, including arterial sclerosis, heart attack and stroke. It measures LDL (or bad cholesterol), HDL (or good cholesterol) and triglycerides, which are fats circulating in the bloodstream.

Comprehensive packages of lab tests can reveal many important metrics regarding the status of your health.

Worried about High MCH Results in your Blood Test? Learn the Facts

Pregnancy and Fertility Testing Resources

Lab testing is a more reliable means of confirming pregnancy. If you are expecting, your doctor may recommend additional lab tests. Among the factors that can be evaluated via blood test indicators are whether you are at increased risk for pregnancy related conditions like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.

Pregnancy Testing And Fertility Testing

Prostate Health Resources

Prostate Cancer And Screening Options

Sexual Health Resources

Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Why Do I Have Bumps on my Penis
STD Risk Factors (Infographic)

Testosterone Resources

Testosterone Levels: The Basics

Thyroid Conditions Resources

What You Need To Know About Thyroid Disorders

Vitamins and Nutrition Resources

Your nutritional status can have far-reaching effects on your health, since your body needs an array of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and many other nutrients to function at its best. Lab tests can help you determine whether you're getting enough of those vital nutrients from your daily diet, identifying nutritional deficits.

Vitamin Deficiencies And Nutrition Levels From Blood Testing

While these are some of the most common issues that can be detected via blood testing, it is by no means an all-inclusive list. Today's vast array of advanced lab testing options can offer detailed information about your health and well-being from head to toe.

Wellness Check ups

Regular Checkups are the Key to Good Health

Most of us know that seeing the doctor for a wellness checkup, on a regular basis, is recommended as part of basic preventive health care. However, not everyone makes those physical exams a priority. So, why are they important and just how often should the average person get these routine checkups? Do some people need them more or less often than others? Just, what do doctors look for during a complete physical exam? Here, we'll get into the details about wellness exams, including when you should have them; and, what you can expect when you see your doctor.

About Wellness Checkups

The goals of regular wellness checkups are very important ones. They aim at keeping tabs on your overall health, helping you avoid preventable health problems and aiding in ensuring that emerging health issues are caught and treated early, before they develop into major or chronic health problems. They are also very important in helping your doctor become familiar with your overall health, which is vital to promoting the good working relationship you need with your health care provider to ensure the best level of care.

So, how often should you be seeing your doctor for a complete physical exam and what can you expect to be done during these appointments? The answers to those questions depend on factors like your stage of life, your gender and your personal health history; so, your personal needs may vary slightly from the following general guidelines:

Wellness Testing Can Illuminate Health Concerns

Wellness Checkup Guidelines for Men

An annual wellness exam is recommended for young men, ages 18 to 21, while men ages 22 to 49 should have a complete physical exam at least once every 4 years. Men that are 50 to 64 years old need a wellness exam every 2 years, and men that are 65 yrs. and over, should be seen once every year. Men can expect their doctors to perform a thorough, head-to-toe physical examination, go over their personal and family health histories, and question them about any medications – prescription, non-prescription and supplements – they are taking regularly. Vital signs, such as blood pressure and body mass index will be evaluated, basic vision and hearing screenings are generally done, and current vaccinations evaluated to ensure that they are up-to-date.

Health screening tests are also done in the course of wellness exams. Tests done in men of all ages may include a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), which provides an overview of general health by looking at factors like blood glucose (sugar) levels and waste products in the blood that indicate how well organs, like the kidneys and liver are functioning. A complete blood count (CBC) is usually done, which looks at the composition of the blood, measuring red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit to screen for indications of common problems, such as anemia or infection, among others. A urinalysis may also be performed to look for indications of common health issues.

In men, over age 35, lipid panels evaluating cholesterol levels are done at least every 5 years; and, men 50 years of age or older are generally screened for early signs of colon and prostate cancer. A screening for hepatitis C is also recommended for men of this age group.

Wellness Checkup Guidelines for Women

An annual checkup is recommended for women between the ages of 18 and 21, while women age 22 to 49 should be seen for a complete physical exam at least once every 4 years. Women age 50 to 64 should have wellness exams at least every 2 years, and women over age 65 should be seen every year. As with men, women can expect a thorough physical examination, a detailed evaluation of personal and family health history, an examination of vital signs and vaccinations.

Basic health screening tests are typically done for women of all ages including a CMP, CMC and urinalysis. Pap tests, which look for indications of cervical cancer, should be done at least every three years in women over age 21, and women under age 30 should be screened for chlamydia. Cholesterol should be tested at least every 5 years, and mammograms should be performed every year or two in women over 40 to screen for breast cancer. Women over 65 need bone density screenings, annual blood pressure checks, periodic colon cancer screenings, and should be screened at least once for hepatitis C.

These guidelines reflect the minimum standards for preventive care in adults. Many health care professionals recommend an annual wellness exam for adults of all ages, and even if you've been given a clean bill of health thus far, having a complete physical exam before you begin a new weight-loss or exercise plan is always a good idea, as is having any unusual symptoms or changes in your general health evaluated by your doctor immediately.

Metabolic Disorders Surprises: An example of Wellness Testing

Metabolism is the process by which your body transforms the foods you eat into the substances it needs to fuel the countless complex systems and processes that keep you alive. When all is running smoothly, that will keep you healthy and strong. Given the importance of metabolism to health and well-being, metabolic disorders – or defects in the metabolic process – can cause a wide range of problems. Here we'll discuss types of metabolic disorders and some of the problems they can cause – including some of the more surprising and unusual issues – as well as how blood tests, including metabolic panels, can help diagnose them.

1. Metabolic Syndrome Is Happening In Children

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic risk factors that can lead to serious health issues, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. These include excessive abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high triglyceride and/or high cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar. While metabolic syndrome has traditionally been considered an adult problem, it is becoming common in kids, with an estimated 1 in 10 teens and 5 percent of second and third graders suffering its effects.

2. Watching Too Much TV Increases Diabetes Risk

In a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that each two-hour-a-day increase in the time spent watching TV; an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes was up by 14 percent. According to the study authors, this association held true even after adjusting for factors that included age, smoking, exercise levels and dietary factors, among others.

3. Diabetes Can Cause Your Eyesight to Change Day-To-Day

Most people are aware that diabetes can cause complications that lead to serious eye problems. What is not so well-known is that the blood glucose fluctuations that occur with this metabolic disorder can change the ability of the crystalline lens in the eye to maintain a sharp focus, affecting how well a person sees from one day to the next.

4. Dark Skin Spots Can Be a Sign of Certain Types of Metabolic Disorders

Metabolic disorders, such as pre-diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome can cause acanthosis nigricans, which are dark, often velvety, skin spots. Frequently these spots form at the back of the neck or the underarms, but they can appear most anywhere on the body.

5. Hyperthyroidism (Over-active Thyroid) Can Make You A Nervous Wreck

Hyperthyroidism is a metabolic disorder caused by overproduction of thyroid hormones by the thyroid gland – which regulates the body's rate of metabolism. Excessive amounts of these hormones speeds overall metabolism, accelerating virtually all body processes. This can affect the nervous system, causing a person to feel anxious, nervous and irritable.

6. Hypothyroidism (Under-active Thyroid) Can Make You Tired, Depressed

Hypothyroidism, which is when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormones, slows the overall rate of metabolism. This can affect virtually all aspects of health, including emotional health, leading to overwhelming fatigue and depression.

7. Some Types of Metabolic Disorders Can Change How You Smell

Trimethylaminuria, commonly called fish odor syndrome, is a rare disorder that is caused by an inability to metabolize certain compounds in foods. The result is a buildup of those compounds in the body, which causes body fluids, such as sweat and urine, to carry an odor that resembles that of rotting fish. Maple syrup urine disease, also rare, is a similar condition, resulting from the inability to metabolize certain amino acids. As these amino acids build up in the body, they cause the urine to carry an odor that resembles that of maple syrup.

8. Some Metabolic Disorders Can Make Sunlight Toxic to The Skin

Cutaneous porphyrias are inherited metabolic disorders that interfere with the body's ability to produce heme, a component in hemoglobin (which carries oxygen in the blood) and other iron-containing proteins in the body. Among more prominent symptoms of these disorders is skin that becomes fragile and blisters when exposed to sunlight.

Most metabolic disorders can be controlled with proper diagnosis and treatment. Many common types of metabolic disorders can be detected with a blood test called a metabolic panel test. Among the factors measured by a metabolic panel are levels of glucose, calcium, various proteins, electrolytes, chloride, carbon dioxide, and enzymes and other chemicals related to liver and kidney health, among others, offering a comprehensive overview of how well many crucial bodily systems are functioning. Other tests that may be used to detect certain types of metabolic disorders include lipid panels, which measure levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, and genetic testing, which can detect hereditary metabolic disorders.

Analysis is done by leading laboratories

The 10 Blood Tests You Need To Ensure Optimal Health

The human body contains a complex set of systems working together to regulate physical and mental functioning. Essential processes, such as the metabolism and absorption of nutrients from food, blood oxygenation and efficient brain function, all involve complex chemical reactions. The key to health and well-being for both mind and body is balance. When the balance of any one of these systems is off, both physical and mental health are at risk. Blood testing offers information you need to help restore that balance.

Lipid Panel – This blood test series checks triglycerides and cholesterol levels, including both high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. Too much cholesterol can threaten health, elevating risks of stroke and cardiac disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), often there are no overt symptoms of high cholesterol, which affects approximately 71 million people in the U.S. Testing can catch cholesterol problems early, while lifestyle changes are still able to set things right.

Thyroid Function – Efficient thyroid function is essential to metabolism and overall health. The thyroid regulates how the body uses energy and influences cholesterol levels. It also impacts brain function, menstruation, body temperature, muscle tone and strength, skin condition, and the functioning of the respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems. When thyroid function is too high or too low, serious health problems can result.

Complete Blood Count – This panel measures the amount of red blood cells, their size and hemoglobin ratios, as well as infection-fighting white blood cells and platelet count. This test tracks blood disorders, like anemia and blood clotting disorders, is used in diagnosing certain autoimmune disorders and infections, and can highlight some dangerous nutritional deficiencies.

Sex Hormones – Deficiencies or imbalances of sex hormones can have wide-ranging effects on health and well-being. In addition to impacting sexual health and performance, imbalances of these hormones are associated with a number of health conditions, including obesity, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, high cholesterol and type II diabetes.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel – A set of 14 tests that measure liver and kidney function, along with the levels of protein, calcium, blood sugar, calcium and electrolytes. This provides a look at the chemical balance of your body and your overall metabolism.

C-reactive Protein – This tests for inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is connected with a number of diseases via clinical studies, including rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, periodontitis, hay fever and atherosclerosis. However, noting the number of other diseases, like Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and heart disease, that seem to be related to inflammation, researchers are delving deeper into the connections between chronic inflammation and disease.

Breakdown of complete blood countanatomy of cardiac disease

Hemoglobin A1C – This tests blood sugar levels by measuring the number of red blood cells with glucose-coated hemoglobin. Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to diabetes. In people already diagnosed with diabetes, consistently high blood sugar elevates the risk of diabetes complications, including damage to liver and kidneys, heart disease, stroke, and eye disease.

Vitamin Profile – Vitamins are essential to the proper function and health of every bodily system, organ and cell, impacting physical, cognitive and emotional health. The body of clinical evidence pointing to the role of nutrition in maintaining physical and mental health grows steadily, as does evidence that nutritional therapies can also help prevent diseases. The wisdom of blood testing to pinpoint and resolve suspected deficiencies is clear.

Coenzyme Q10 – This fat-soluble enzyme is essential in the chemical processes that provide energy for cells. Produced naturally by the body, CoQ10 is vital to virtually all bodily organs, systems and functions. Levels of CoQ10 in the body often fall after age 40, the body gradually becoming less efficient at producing it, a decrease accelerated by certain medications, particularly statins.

Magnesium – Magnesium is vital to hundreds of essential chemical reactions in the body. It has a part in cell communication, providing energy for cells, and in the structure of chromosomes, cell membranes and bones. Deficiency is associated with several diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis and can also adversely impact calcium and Vitamin D utilization and levels, making it worth testing.

As you, in partnership with your physician, strive to maintain optimal health and well-being, blood testing can be a powerful tool. By monitoring your overall health through these simple tests, potential health risks can be caught and addressed early, before they progress into health problems that can affect your quality of life.

What You Should Know: Tracking Your Health Data

Gadgets are everywhere and are, most likely, not going away; nor are the Internet and the virtual, nonstop flood of information it provides. The Net, a global system of interconnected networks that link to billions of devices worldwide, has existed for more than half a century. What are relatively new – and still untested - are apps and internet sites that collect healthcare data, raising more questions than answers.

It’s a new world that, some say, will disrupt the entire healthcare world that we know. Even the language is evolving. We now have “wearables” like “FitBits” and “Apple Watches,” creating a market of more than 50,000 health apps estimated at a worth of more than $4 billion and growing.

In fact, healthcare providers declare that nowadays, more patients are coming in bringing information they have been collecting from consumer medical devices. They are using the “fit bands”, which measure the number of daily steps you take and some phone apps that record the number of calories you consume.

Instead of hiring drug reps to shadow a doctor’s offices, it’s a now start-up technology provider that is taking over this task. These are offering new products explaining a relatively large amount of untold digital data related to patient care.

But, how beneficial are all the new information these devices collect? Can your healthcare provider actually use it; or, is the collected data just one more stack of paperwork to analyze? More important, how safe is our private healthcare data and can it be used against us? Only time will tell.

Who tracks their health online and why?

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, seven in ten U.S. adults track some type of health information about themselves or a loved one. More than 50 percent of the information recorded digitally relates to weight, diet and exercise. Another 33 percent indicates blood pressure, sleep habits and minor health concerns like common headaches. Those living with a chronic condition, the report concludes, are more likely to track a health symptom or an indicator. For instance, about 78 percent of trackers have high blood pressure, which they monitor and about 45 percent have diabetes in which they track their blood sugar levels.

Others report they track health data “in their head” or in a journal that requires writing down the information. About half of all “trackers” update their records regularly and – interestingly - most don’t share the data with anyone. But trackers with two or more conditions are more likely than other groups to keep track, and more likely to share the information.

Why do people track their health data? From a nationwide survey of 3,014 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center:

  • About 46 percent say it helps motivate them to maintain better health, or the health of a loved one.
  • About 40 percent report it leads to new questions they can ask their healthcare provider.
  • About one-third said it affects decisions about how to treat an illness or condition.

Should I share my fitness data with my healthcare provider?

The answer varies. Some health experts say that providing your doctor data from fitness trackers and health apps, which can be inserted into electronic patient records, might help in detecting a health problem sooner, reducing risk of complications.

In one New Jersey study, a small number of patients at risk for heart failure were asked to use a fitness tracker and record their dietary intake. The information was automatically transferred to their patient’s records. While the potential is to get patients more involved with their own care and this new technology can simplify it, other healthcare specialists believe that it’s unclear how trackers and apps improve patient care. In addition, there are still many consumer privacy and security issues to address, not to mention compatibility among all devices, before a clear list of advantages can be established.

Others say fitness apps are just a tool, one of many, that may help and may not. And, nearly all healthcare providers agree that digital data can never replace a face-to-face visit.

Is sharing my health data online safe?

tracking your digital health data

Thanks to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) Privacy Rule, there are limits for who can access and examine your health information without your permission. It can be used and shared with doctors and hospitals, family, friends or others that you, as the patient, specify. Also, the police, in special cases and some government agencies involved in reporting certain public illnesses can have access to this data. However, you must receive a notice explaining how an individual or agency will possibly use/share your health information upon a first visit to a physician or in the mail. (You can learn more about HIPPA at www.healthit.gov).

But, when it comes to Internet security, the question that remains is what’s truly safe since we’re all connected? Your best safety net is to educate yourself about cyber security so you can be a responsible Internet user, protecting your digital data from viruses and other threats. A good place to start is the National Cyber Security Alliance, whose mission is to empower and educate our digital society. Visit http://www.staysafeonline.org/for details.

Can doctors really use digital healthcare information?

In a 2015 interview for National Public Radio (NPR) in which several healthcare providers were asked their opinion about the increasing amount of health data provided by digital gadgets, the answer was surprising. One doctor whose patient arrived with numerous pages of Excel spread sheets was quoted as saying “all the information can be overwhelming, and going through it was not feasible.” He went on to say that information, from spreadsheets and devices like “FitBits” or other health app, do miss the subtleties one gets from watching a person’s body language or tone of voice.

Another doctor mentioned that just because an app is readily available, this doesn’t mean that the information it provides is useful or accurate. FitBits and Apple Watches, for example, are not yet regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are considered, instead, “low-risk” devices that promote general wellness. Only medical devices intended for diagnostic purposes or treatment of disease require FDA approval.

Overall, more research and hard data through validation studies are needed before digital devices get a high-five. Pilot studies are currently underway in some hospitals, including one in which Parkinson’s disease patients use wearables that help them track and manage their symptoms. A digital diary tracks how tremors respond to changes in one’s diet, sleep and medication patterns. Results, to date, have not yet determined the viability of using digital devices.

What’s the future of online health data?

It can be scary to realize that all of the medical information formerly (and safely) locked in your healthcare provider’s private office can be online, now and forever. Your healthcare data comes from a variety of sources, not the least of which includes electronic medical devices. And that isn’t likely to change.

Though these devices have been around since 1958, when the first computer-driven pacemaker was inserted into a patient, Implantable Medical Devices (IMDs) now include Wi-Fi pacemakers, defibrillators, diabetic pumps, ear implants and neuro-stimulators. Today, it’s estimated that up to 300,000 patients receive wireless IMDs. That means even though the technological advances have brought breathtaking benefits for patients, the more computers our bodies’ house, the more opportunities are created for others to hack and subvert the information.

Imagine a future in which someone could remotely hack your pacemaker and threaten to deliver a lethal jolt of electricity unless you pay up? Or, someone gains access to all of your private, confidential medical information and uses it against you? In his new book, Future Crimes (Doubleday, 2015) author Marc Goodman says while the potential for diverting the volume of information about our health and our lives is a real and growing threat, we must all take responsibility for our devices, from allowing only authorized programs to run on our systems, to updating software and antiviral programs as well as restricting administrative privileges. A full list of safety tips are provided in the book, including simple steps that can help provide up to 85 percent protection against digital threats.

On the public health side, he says we need the equivalent of a “cyber CDC” and a more coordinated, comprehensive approach to reporting and preventing disruptive and malicious cyber hacking. The hacks of tomorrow, adds Goodman, will affect everything from our televisions to our implantable medical devices. The innovation can’t and shouldn’t be stopped. But, by taking control of our devices and the information we share, we are taking better control of our private and public health status for the future.

General Lab Testing

What you should know about lab tests: Every adult, even those in perfect health, will at one time or another need a general lab test. Many of these tests are used to establish baseline numbers during regular checkups, as part of screening for specific diseases and as a way for healthcare providers to prescribe treatments.

Lipid screening, for example, is used to determine total levels of cholesterol and is recommended on a regular basis for those with a family history of high cholesterol or other risk factors. A simple blood test can also check for anemia, iron levels and potentially serious blood disorders. Concerned about diabetes, hepatitis, infection, whether or you are pregnant? A blood test can provide the answers.

Along with regular check-ups, general lab tests are designed for preventive care, offering a proactive approach to healthcare and the ability to find and treat certain diseases early when treatment is most effective.

Common Questions about General Lab Testing

What should I expect when a blood test is administered?

Most routine diagnostic lab tests require a blood sample. It’s a brief, generally painless experience (a quick sting or less discomfort level) but it often causes anxiety, especially for those who are needle-phobic or don’t like the sight of blood, especially their own.

A health professional will ask you to raise your sleeve and wrap an elastic band (tourniquet) around the upper part of your arm to apply pressure, which causes veins to swell with blood. The skin surface is cleaned with antiseptic and a small needle inserted inside the elbow or on the back of the hand. The blood is then withdrawn and collected in a vial or a syringe. When the needle is removed, the elastic band is also removed, a cotton ball placed on the puncture site and if needed, a small bandage applied to stop the bleeding.

The entire procedure generally takes less than five minutes. A skilled healthcare professional can perform a lab draw with hardly any discomfort at all, quickly and easily. If apprehension over lab testing is a major drawback for you, see tips at the end of this FAQ on how to reduce your anxiety level.

If I can afford to have only a minimum number of lab tests performed, what should they be?

That depends upon age, family history and overall health. If you are under the care of a physician, ask which tests are best for you that match your current healthcare status.

For general purposes, many healthcare providers suggest the following:

Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP) – a set of eight tests that together can provide information about glucose (sugar) and calcium levels in the blood, how the kidneys are functioning and overall electrolyte and fluid balance.

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP) – coupled with a Complete Blood Count (CBC) these tests analyze more than 40 basic blood parameters including:

Cardiovascular Risk Profile – measures total cholesterol and triglycerides, along with an estimated risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).

Liver Function – shows if the liver is functioning properly and if any inflammation is present; can monitor changes in liver function when medications are administered.

Kidney Function – establishes current health status of the kidneys

Blood Chemistry – measures the levels of certain electrolytes, including sodium and potassium. It is typically ordered to look for signs of diabetes, kidney dysfunction or metabolic disorders.

Complete Blood Count (CBC) – also known as CBC with Differential, this is a panel of tests often used for broad screening purposes to determine general health. It can also screen for a number of conditions and diseases, including anemia, leukemia and infection, as well as monitor treatment effectiveness. White blood cells (WBC) (fight infection), red blood cells (RBC) (transport oxygen throughout the body) and platelets (cell fragments vital for blood clotting) are all measured for normal ranges. A white blood cell differential identifies and counts the numbers and types of white blood cells present. Note: a recent blood transfusion can affect the results of a CBC.

Breakdown of complete blood count

Serum Lipid Panel – strongly recommended starting at age 35, this test screens for the presence of high cholesterol levels which can lead to coronary heart disease; recommended at age 20 if family history or other risk factors are present.

Heart disease runs in my family so I think I’m at higher risk for a cardiovascular event. What lab tests are best for me?

Always check with your healthcare provider, but in general, if there is a strong predisposition to coronary heart disease (CHD) in your family history, consider having a: Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) or Lipoprotein Particle Profile (LPP) – two newer forms of cholesterol tests that measure many different elements in the blood, including patterns in blood fats that can lead to inflammation. Many medical experts say inflammation is a core cause of heart disease.

Homocysteine Test – an amino acid toxic to blood vessels that can fuel inflammation. Have your levels checked.

Lipoprotein Test – an inflammatory form of cholesterol that increases blood stickiness and the chance of a blood clot; heart attacks and strokes come from blood clots.

Fibrinogen Test – this protein helps determine the stickiness of blood; higher than normal levels are associated with too much clotting.

C-reactive protein (CRP) – a blood protein that, when found in elevated levels, can help determine heart attack and stroke risk. C-reactive protein is a little known marker of heart disease.

Fasting Blood Sugar Test (HbA1c) – to determine risk for metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease.

Can I eat and drink before taking a blood test?

That depends upon the type of blood test performed. A healthcare professional should provide any specific instructions when your test is scheduled, including whether or not you should continue to take your medications. If not, ask for guidance on what to do prior to the test.

Examples of blood tests in which prior preparation is needed:

Iron blood test – schedule a morning test so that it can be taken on an empty stomach. Avoid taking iron pills or tablets 24 hours before the test, as it can raise your iron levels and affect results. This test determines if your iron levels are normal.

Fasting blood glucose test – don’t eat or drink anything other than water for 8-10 hours prior to the test, which is used to diagnose diabetes.

Lipid profile test – avoid foods and liquids other than water for 12 hours prior to the test. Lipid tests measure “good” and “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

Gamma-glutamyl transferase test (GGT) – since this test helps diagnose liver disease, don’t drink alcohol or smoke in the 24-hour period before blood is drawn, as GGT levels can be affected.

What about drug testing?

Drug testing is used in a number of ways, from medical screening to employment, legal and sports testing. Medical screening for drug abuse is usually focused on finding out what drugs, or combination of drugs, were taken so treatment can be administered.

The active ingredient in marijuana – one of the most commonly tested drugs – is THC, which enters the bloodstream rapidly. It tends to stay in the blood only a short time however; so, a urine test is more often used to detect recent marijuana usage. How long it stays in the system depends on how often or how much the user has smoked. Regular smokers have reported a positive test result up to 45 days since last usage and even longer for heavy smokers.

How do I interpret my lab report?

Lab reports can look different, as each facility has its own reporting format. Yet all contain certain information which is mandated by federal legislation. Some labs include additional information that is not required. If you have specific questions on how to read your lab reports, ask for help from your healthcare provider.

Typically, lab reports include:

  • Patient name and I.D. number.
  • Name and address of the laboratory location where the test was performed.
  • The date the test was administered and the test report date.
  • Name of the healthcare provider ordering or authorizing the test.
  • Specimen source (examples: blood, urine, spinal fluid).
  • Date and time of specimen collection.
  • Assigned sample number called an “accession number.”
  • Test name, which may be abbreviated.
  • Test results, usually in a number format; may also be shown as positive or negative or in text form.
  • When test results are abnormal, attention is typically drawn to the result either through highlighting, setting them apart, or indicating with an “H” for high, “L” for low, or “WNL” meaning within normal limits.
  • Dangerously abnormal results are called “critical results” and must be reported immediately to the person responsible for ordering the test, most often a healthcare provider. An asterisk (*) may be used to report the date and time the responsible person was notified.
  • Measurement units can vary from lab to lab. Some use kilograms or other metric forms. Many results contain a number followed by a unit of measurement. (Example: 35 milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL).
  • Reference ranges are a list of “normal” ranges within which your results are expected to fall.
  • Some labs may provide interpretation of results with an explanation of what certain tests can indicate.
  • Specimen conditions, especially if lab criteria is not met. One example is a specimen received in less than good condition due to collection or storage problems. In these cases, a poor specimen may be noted on the report.

Be aware that some test results are false-positive, meaning that they show a condition or disease is present when it is not. A false-negative test doesn’t detect what is being tested for, even when the condition is present. Discuss all results with a healthcare provider, including those that are inconsistent or inconclusive.

What are some helpful tips on having my blood tested if there are special circumstances?

The most important thing to remember about general lab testing is that it takes only a few minutes of your time, yet can offer a wealth of information about your overall health that is long-lasting.

Regardless, some people are highly sensitive to any type of invasive procedure including a needle prick. Children may be extremely anxious and uncooperative; elderly have thinner skin, more fragile veins and might experience more discomfort; needle or other phobias may be present for some individuals. A relatively simple, “what’s the big deal” procedure to some can be challenging and frightening to others.

The following tips can help:

If you have a clear phobia of needles, especially if you had a bad experience that resulted in trauma, be sure to mention it to the person taking your blood. Fainting, sweats, light-headedness and rapid heartbeat can be reduced by simply acknowledging your fear and lying down during the procedure. Most lab professionals are familiar with testing anxieties and will attempt to make the experience as easy as possible.

  • Relax your muscles – close your eyes and make a conscious effort to loosen every muscle in your body.
  • Take three deep, slow breaths, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slow it down if you start to feel lightheaded.
  • Focus on something other than the procedure. Use visualization to put yourself in a different, more peaceful surrounding. Or think of a past, pleasant memory.
  • Count to ten, concentrating on getting to the last number.
  • Talk to someone. Conversation is a great method of distraction.
  • If the person getting blood drawn has hearing, vision or cognitive impairments, make sure the lab is notified in advance.

When a child is undergoing a lab test and appears unduly anxious, ask if the lab technician can speak with the child first to help explain the procedure and answer any questions. Have one or more parent (or other close adult) present in the room during the blood test.

Drink Plenty of Water Before Blood Tests

Why Do You Fast Before A Blood Test

If you have had some blood testing done, chances are that you have been instructed to avoid eating or drinking anything but water for several hours, generally 8 to 12 hours, prior to your blood being drawn. These are called fasting blood tests, and to many patients who have had them or are about to wonder, it is really necessary to fast before these tests. While it may seem like an unnecessary hassle, the fact is, there are concrete medical reasons for fasting before certain blood tests. Following those instructions to the letter can help ensure that the results of your tests are accurate.

How Fasting Affects the Blood

As you digest and metabolize foods and beverages, nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, which is how they travel throughout the body to fuel its various organs, systems and functions. For several hours after you eat, those nutrients float about in the blood, waiting to be utilized by the body. During that period, the composition of your blood is somewhat altered from its baseline state, with higher than normal concentrations of certain substances – especially glucose, lipids and iron – that can influence the results of blood tests. Fasting before a blood test allows nutrients from your last meal to be cleared from the bloodstream, restoring your blood to its baseline state, eliminating the potential of skewed results from your last meal.

Fasting Blood Tests

Tests that can be significantly affected by food intake include two main groups of tests; blood glucose testing and lipid level testing. The issue is that levels of both glucose and lipids – including LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides – fluctuate during the day according to what types of foods and beverages are ingested. Should these levels be tested at a high point, soon after a sugary drink or a fatty meal, results could come back artificially high, since the standardized reference range that your numbers will be compared with to interpret your test results is based on fasting blood tests. Of course, any treatment you receive for blood sugar or lipid related health issues will be, to some extent, based on those test results, so artificially inflated readings can lead to more aggressive treatment than is necessary.

Other tests that give more accurate results after fasting include certain metabolic and nutrient panels. The amount of certain vitamins and minerals in the bloodstream – especially fat soluble nutrients, such as vitamins A, E and D and essential minerals, iron and electrolytes – can be artificially high after a meal. Measuring them after fasting can give a more accurate picture of nutritional status, ensuring that deficiencies or insufficiencies that can affect health and well-being are not overlooked. Some tests related to the function of kidneys or other vital organs may also require fasting.

Proper Preparation for Fasting Blood Tests

If you have been scheduled for blood tests, it’s always a good policy to ask whether you should fast in preparation for those tests. While health care professionals do generally inform patients of these details, mistakes can happen, so it's wise to double check. If your tests are fasting blood tests, you will need to refrain from eating anything at all for eight to twelve hours before your blood is drawn. Beverages, such as your usual morning coffee, tea or orange juice, should be avoided until after your appointment as well. However, you can – and should – drink plenty of plain water. Being well-hydrated for blood tests is important, making it easier for the lab technician to draw your blood, and water will not affect your test results. In most cases, it is fine to take your regular medications before your appointment, but ask your doctor to be sure, since some medications can cause inaccurate test results.

Breakdown of human circulatory components

Human Anatomy - Major Organ Systems

The human body is the most complicated organism on the planet. The organs, in a human body, are tissues that come together perform at least one purpose in the body. Many serve several functions. The largest of the human organs is also the easiest to see. The skin, along with the hair, fingernails, and toenails, covers most of the body. The skin is actually made up of three different layers. The epidermis is the outermost layer, which contains the pigments determining your skin color. It is also covered with tiny holes called pores from which sweat can escape the body.

The middle layer of skin is the dermis. It is so tightly connected to the epidermis that it is hard to tell when one starts and the other stops. The dermis contains the connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands. The final layer is the hypodermis. This is technically not part of the skin; but, exists to connect the skin to the muscles underneath. This layer also supplies blood to the skin and contains most of the body's fat reserve.

The skin is more than just a covering for the blood connections underneath. The skin provides a waterproof layer of protection against invaders to the body, like viruses and bacteria. The skin also has the amazing ability to turn sunlight into Vitamin D, as well as regulating our body temperature. It also excretes waste through sweat.

Part of the reasons why the human body is so complicated is that all the parts are interrelated. When studying the different systems of the body, remember that organs in one system often perform functions in another. Keep this in mind while reading about the ten major organ systems in the body.

The Skeletal System

The skeletal system is composed primarily of 206 bones, and also the cartilage, tendons, and ligaments which connect the bones together. Without the connective tissue, the bones would float around in the body without much function. With these tissues, the bones will be able to both support the human body and give it its shape. It also facilitates a good body movement, mainly because of the joints.

Bones provide an important protective function in such a way that the skull protects the brain, and the ribs protect the heart, lungs, and other internal organs. From another angle, bones have a semi solid tissue within them that are located in the spongy part of the bone structure. This semi solid tissue is called the bone marrow that plays a vital role in generating red blood cells. Finally, your bones have also a big role in storing calcium for future use and are key players in regulating blood-sugar and fat deposits due to a hormone they release.

The Muscular System

The muscular system is made of three types of muscles: smooth, skeletal, and cardiac. These muscles work together to create the body’s movement in conjunction with the skeletal system. They also provide the strength and balance that the body needs to perform any basic function, like eating, breathing, or blinking. When your body moves, your muscles burn energy that provides much of the heat needed by your body.

Skeletal muscles are the muscles that are attached to your bones via tendons. These are the muscles that a person can control, such as the ones in the legs that you need to walk from room to room. This type of muscle is also called striated, because of their fibrous look. Smooth muscles are the ones controlled by the autonomic nervous system. In other words, they are the muscles used in involuntary movements, like the intestines when they digest food or the iris of the eyes when exposed to light.

Cardiac muscles are also part of the involuntary nervous system. They are distinct because they are attached to each other rather than to bones, which is the case of the skeletal muscles. Cardiac muscles are found solely in the heart.

The Circulatory System

Many substances circulate throughout the human body, like hormones and chemicals. When scientists and doctors speak of the human circulatory system, however, they are almost always referring to the system which moves blood around the body. The circulatory system comprises the heart, arteries, capillaries, vein, and to some extent the lungs, trachea, ear, nose, and throat. Some even include the lymphatic system as part of the circulatory system.

The main purpose of the circulatory system is to provide oxygen and other needed nutrients to all parts of the body; and, to pick up waste material from the cells for elimination. Think of it as the system that offers food delivery and trash pick-up in one efficient movement. The heart is the engine of your system, as it pumps blood part of its journey through the body.

First, the blood must pick up the oxygen. After the blood is pumped through the first two chambers of the heart, it travels through the pulmonary artery to the lungs. There it deposits the waste picked up from cells in the body, primarily carbon dioxide, and absorbs oxygen from the lungs. The blood then re-enters the heart via the pulmonary vein and is pumped through the remaining two chambers of the heart. Then, most of it exits the heart through the aorta. The aorta that is the body's main artery begins to branch into progressively smaller arteries, bringing nutrient-rich blood to the body.

A portion of the oxygen-rich blood is pumped into a special artery that brings blood to the heart itself. The heart is a strong muscle and needs a constant supply of blood, just as the rest of the body does. The heart is not designed to absorb the blood being pumped through the chambers. It needs its own supply that would be capable to feed the heart muscle cells.

As the blood from the arteries reaches its destination, the arteries become very small and transition into capillaries. Capillaries are special blood vessels that allow the cells surrounding them to absorb the oxygen from the blood in them and dump their waste. The capillaries, then, transition into veins. The blood in veins is much darker as is has little oxygen in it. The veins slowly begin to combine into larger veins until they unite to form the largest vein, the interior vena cava, which brings the blood back into the heart. That’s when the process begins all over.

The Nervous System

With the systems already discussed, there are already many complex operations taking place. Something needs to control all the functions. That duty falls on the nervous system. The nervous system consists of the brain, the spinal cord and other nerves, as well as the retina. The retina is the nerve connected to the eye, which controls vision.

The brain and spinal cord are made of a special kind of cell called the neuron. A neuron is specifically designed to allow for a rapid communication between cells. This is done either via chemical or electric communication. The brain has billions of synapses where neurons are interconnected and constantly communicating.

The brain isn't just the organ that is used for humans to think; but, it also controls all body functions, emotion, judgment, memory, the senses, as well as all the other systems of the body. Different parts of the brain control different aspects of the body or different areas of one’s personality. The brain makes billions of decisions or connections every minute, far more than any computer. Signals are then sent along the spinal cord.

The spinal cord is a long collection of fibrous tissues called nerves. Signals are passed along these cords, like the ones sent along a telephone wire, to the appropriate muscle or organ. In return, the nerves send input signals back to the brain, like pain sensations.

  • Neuroscience for Kids - In spite of the name, this is a really cool look at the brain and nervous system.

The Respiratory System

The respiratory system is highly intertwined with the circulatory system. The lungs expand pulling air in through the nose or mouth. The diaphragm, located underneath the lungs, is the organ actually responsible for causing inhalation. The air, then, rushes through the throat into the trachea, which is the pipe connecting the lungs to the throat. The trachea then splits into two, each branch leading into a different half of the lungs.

As air fills the lungs, the oxygen from the air is absorbed into the blood that the heart has pumped there for that specific purpose. Once the lungs are mostly filled, the lungs begin to recoil, pushing air back out the trachea, throat, mouth and nose. The difference this time is that the blood which absorbed the oxygen has dumped carbon dioxide into the lungs. So the air from an exhalation has a much higher level of carbon dioxide than normal air.

The Digestive System

The digestive system might be the most complicated system in the body. It certainly has a large number of organs. The digestive system's purpose is to remove nutrients from the foods and beverages a person consumes so that they can be used by the cells in the body as fuel. As most humans consume a variety of foods and often many that are unhealthy, the digestive system has a big job.

The mouth, teeth, tongue, and salivary glands are the first organs of the digestive system. They start the digestive process by mechanically reducing the food into a paste that can be digested by the stomach. The food, or beverage, is then swallowed down the esophagus and carried into the stomach. Here, stomach acids begin the chemical breakdown of the food.

Once the stomach is done with the food, it passes into the small intestines. The small intestines play a vital part in digestion. Bile from the liver and gall bladder as well as digestive enzymes from the pancreas enter the small intestines to break down the proteins from the food; and, to emulsify the fat. Once the nutrients are broken down, the villi, small hair-like projection which line the lower end of the small intestines, absorb the soluble nutrients so they can enter the bloodstream.

Breakdown of human digestion

Then, whatever substances are left move on to the large intestines. Here, the colon removes most of the water from the substances. The colon also is populated by good bacteria which live in it and produce Vitamin K for the body. As a final part of the digestion, the waste material is then squeezed into the rectum and the waste exits the body.

The Excretory System

The excretory system is composed of all the organs, which help the body get rid of waste products. Waste products are sometimes created by cells; other times they are the unneeded and unused substances, which have entered the body that need to be removed. Some organs of other systems are also excretory organs. For instance, the skin excretes sweat and the lungs excrete carbon dioxide.

The urinary system is also an important piece of the puzzle. The urinary system, the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra, exists to clean out the blood, like a filtration system. The kidneys are the primary filter. Not only does this pair of organs pull out toxic material from the blood; but, they also regulate the amount of fluid in the body and maintain its right level of acidity.

After the waste and excess fluid are removed from the blood, the ureters carry the urine created in the kidneys, all the way to the bladder. The bladder stores the urine until it can be eliminated. When the body is ready to eliminate the urine, the urine passes through the urethra to be excreted. In men, the urethra also acts as part of the reproductive system.

  • The Urogenital System - This explanation of the excretory system includes photographs of actual organs in the urogenital system.
  • Excretory System Model - Make a model of the excretory system. This would be a great class or science fair project.

The Endocrine System

The endocrine system is, perhaps, one of the less famous and understood part of all the body systems; but, a very important one. The endocrine system is made up of glands which produce chemicals called hormones which control body development, puberty, metabolism, and even mood. The endocrine glands are different from other glands in the body, like sweat or salivary glands which have ducts. Endocrine glands are ductless.

In the brain, the hypothalamus, the pineal, and the pituitary gland secrete a wide array of hormones. The hypothalamus controls growth, along with many other functions. The pineal gland produces melatonin, which influences how well a person sleeps. The pituitary gland, also, helps control growth, blood-sugar levels, egg production in females, as well as other function.

There are other glands found in the stomach, duodenum, liver, pancreas, and kidneys. The thyroid in the neck controls the body's metabolism. In women, the ovarian follicle produces several hormones, which regulate the menstrual cycle and the development of female sex characteristics. Males have testes, that help men develop male sexual organs as well as increase their muscle and bone mass.

  • Endocrine System Diseases - When something goes wrong with one of the glands in the endocrine system, the effect can be devastating to a person's health.

The Reproductive System

The reproductive system allows humans to produce offspring. Though there are dissimilarities in bodily systems between men and women, these are just minor differences. But, when it comes to the reproductive system, they are quite different as they have completely different roles. Interestingly, sexual organs start developing similarly for a fetus, in both genders. Then, at a certain point during the baby's development, the organs begin developing into the appropriate gender-appropriate organs.

A female's main reproductive organs are the two ovaries. These two small organs hold all the eggs a woman has in addition to producing many of the hormones associated with reproduction and the menstrual cycle. These are connected to the uterus by the fallopian tubes. The uterus serves as the home for a developing fetus during pregnancy. The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina that is the external opening of the body for the genitals.

The male’s equivalents of the ovaries are the two testes, which are housed in the scrotum. These organs produce the hormones associated with the male gender characteristics as well as reproduction in the form of sperm (these latter are the father's contribution to a baby's genetics). The sperm is then stored in the epididymis until it passes into the vas deferens, picking up seminal fluid from the accessory glands. The vas deferens, then, takes the sperm mixture to the penis during ejaculation.

  • The Reproductive System Development - Organs in a developing baby's reproductive system start off the same, regardless of the baby’s gender. This article explains how sexual organs develop differently in males and females.
  • Anatomy Bowl - This free Jeopardy-like game tests knowledge about anatomy. This link connects to the questions about the reproductive system.

The Lymphatic/Immune System

The lymphatic and immune system act as a filter for the body. Unlike the urinary system, this system filters out invaders to the body, such as viruses and bacteria. The lymphatic system is made of the tonsils, thymus, spleen, and many lymph nodes found all over the body. This system circulates a liquid called lymph throughout the body, via the bloodstream.

This fluid circulation is important in maintaining the health of the body. It removes excess fluid from around tissues, transports white blood cells to the bones, and absorbs fatty acids and fat from the intestines. It also plays a part in the immune system as it carries antigen-producing cells to the lymph node when an infection has been discovered. As lymph passes through the lymph nodes, they act as filters, catching the intruders in their tissues.

When describing the immune system, scientists describe two different types of protections. The first is innate immunity. They are the natural protectors the body owns to keep invaders, or antigens, out. The skin, for instance, acts as a barrier for most of the body. Saliva, tears, mucus and sweat all have properties that kill many antigens. Stomach acid destroys most antigens that are consumed.

The adaptive immune system, which is the second type, describes the actions taken by the body when a specific antigen is detected. This includes the production of antibodies to fight the virus that has been inhaled into the lungs, for example. There are several tools that the immune system uses, including killer T cells, which will exterminate infected cells and kill the virus. The immune system also has an amazing ability to remember antigens which have invaded from the past. This is why a person, who has previously had the chicken pox, for example, won't get sick with it again. If the virus enters the body, the immune system already has the tools needed to fight it on hand.

  • The Immune System - This introduction to the immune system goes into greater detail about how the system fights the invaders in the body.
  • Immune System Basics - The immune system is a complicated network of tissues which work together to fight antigens and pathogens. This article breaks it all down.

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