Ever wonder what our blood tests are used for? Blood testing has become routine that we often forget the value of this simple procedure. Phlebotomy is part of standard diagnostic procedure. Blood and other specimen (urine, feces, tissue) is collected so doctors can make accurate diagnosis of an illness or medical condition and recommend appropriate treatment. Often, a doctor’s initial findings are confirmed or ruled out by blood tests. Depending on the outcome, a doctor then proceeds to another level of test. Regardless of the outcome however, phlebotomy is at the very foundation of diagnosis because it is one of the least invasive techniques to evaluate a person’s health or medical condition (as opposed to biopsy).
Blood tests however are not just performed for diagnostic purposes. Blood may be collected from patients who are not necessarily sick at the moment. General physical examinations typically require blood testing as part of the standard protocol. This is because the health of vital organs can often be determined by a simple blood test. Sugar and sodium levels can be determined using this method. An increase in sugar levels may mean a poorly functioning pancreas (because it produces hormones that keep sugar levels in check), or an increase in blood sodium may suggest kidney problems (because kidneys are crucial in maintaining the balance of sodium in the body).
Additionally, blood tests are often performed to screen patients for certain predispositions. Patients who are at risk of HIV or are likely to acquire sickle cell anemia are evaluated using their blood sample. Certain cancers are also detected early this way. For example, a universal blood test to detect incipient breast tumors is currently underway and will be a huge step towards breast cancer prevention when the procedure is thoroughly evaluated.
It may sound outdated, but certain states, such as Mississippi and Montana, require blood workups before they can issue marriage licenses. The rationale behind premarital blood tests is to screen contracting parties of sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis. This practice stemmed from the fact that in the past, venereal diseases were difficult to control from spreading.
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Blood tests are also carried out to track nutritional deficiencies. Lack of adequate levels of iron and vitamins B6 and B12, for example, can easily be determined by a blood workup. Red blood cell counts can also indicate levels of folate, potassium and magnesium. Specific nutritional blood tests are also ordered when a patient is suspected to be deficient in zinc.
Among women of reproductive age, blood tests are also conducted to detect pregnancy at its earliest stages, particularly among women who have irregular menses. This is important because gestating mothers need to store folate during the first trimester of the pregnancy (and even while planning to conceive), and failure to confirm such may have adverse effects on the fetus.
For patients who wonder “what our blood tests used for?”, the answer would depend on the medical condition of the patient or why the doctor ordered it in the first place. Blood tests are routine tests, and many a lives have been saved by this simple procedure.