What should I know about medical lab testing?

Medical lab test results are crucial for identifying potential illnesses and chronic diseases, but interpreting them can be a challenge. Learning how is worth it, though, so take some time now to read through our guide. Make sure to have your lab results in hand as you follow the below steps to determine and interpret your results.

What are lab tests?

Laboratory tests, or lab tests, are a way for doctors to diagnose or monitor specific conditions or simply gather information about your general health. Lab tests are usually done by taking a sample of blood, urine, or other bodily fluids and sending them to a special lab testing facility. This may be either on-site where the sample is taken or elsewhere.

Getting a lab test done is just one way of learning about your health. When used in combination with full physical exams and in-depth health history, your doctor should be able to identify any areas of your health that could cause potential problems.

What are they for?

There are a lot of reasons why your doctor may order specific lab tests for you. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • To monitor a known condition and its treatment. Lab testing will show your healthcare provider whether your condition is improving and if treatment is working.
  • To check for specific diseases or disorders. If you are experiencing symptoms or are at high risk for certain conditions, your doctor may order a lab test to check if the condition is present. One such type of common lab test is a PAP smear, which screens for cervical cancer.
  • To check your general health. Routine checkups with your doctor may include a complete blood count. For this lab test, your blood will be drawn and screened for hormone levels, iron, vitamins, and more.

How do I interpret the results?

When you receive your blood test or other lab test results, you might not know what everything means. The first thing to note is the reference range, a set of numbers that indicate normal results. You want your numbered results to fall within that range. However, if your results are not within the reference range, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. Further testing may be needed to identify what’s going on.

When lab tests are looking for a specific disease or condition, you may see the words negative/normal or positive/abnormal. Negative/normal indicates that the disease was not present in the sample; positive/abnormal means that it was. In some cases, you may receive an “inconclusive” result. In this case, seek further testing.

If you’re concerned about a potential condition, there’s no need for a long hospital wait. Instead, head to a nearby urgent care center and get walk-in lab testing.