Learning About Lab Tests

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Introduction

Laboratory (lab) tests give your doctor information about your health. While these tests help give a clear idea of what's happening in your body, they may be confusing to you. What do the results mean? Is it good news or bad news? Maybe it's no news, if you had a test and then never heard back about the results.

If you're waiting for lab results and you haven't heard back, contact your doctor's office. The staff can often answer questions for you or tell you where to find the results. Some tests take longer than others. You can ask when they expect to have the results, so then you'll have an idea of how long you have to wait.

Why did you have a test?

There are many reasons for lab tests. You may feel fine and still have a test, such as when you have an annual physical examination.

You may have a test to:

  • Find the cause of symptoms.
  • Confirm a diagnosis.
  • Screen for a disease.
  • Find out how serious a disease is.
  • Find out if a treatment is working.
  • Make sure medicines are not causing a problem.

Are the results accurate?

Labs are required to do quality testing on a regular basis. They must have policies in place that explain how patient samples are collected, transported, evaluated, and reported. Labs must follow those policies and do testing to make sure that your test results are accurate.

What do the numbers mean?

Many test results come back in the form of numbers. Experts test many healthy people to find out what is normal for that group. The numbers they come up with are called a reference range. Your doctor will look at a reference range to help find out what your numbers mean.

Your test results could fall in or outside this range. The test is most often considered normal when the numbers are within the range. But it's possible that your numbers can fall outside the range and still be normal for you.

Lab tests are only one piece of information about how you're doing. Your doctor considers many things when looking at your health. These things may include your symptoms, age, weight, physical examination, and family history.

How can you get help understanding the results?

You can learn more about your lab results in several ways. Ask your doctor to explain what the results mean. Prepare questions before you visit your doctor so you don't forget them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't understand the answer, ask again.

The person you talk to about your results may not be a doctor. You might also get information from a nurse or a physician's assistant.

Your doctor's office may have a website where you can get help with lab test results. You can also look on a trusted online medical information site.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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