July 18, 2022

How to Understand Your Lab Results - What to Expect

Key Takeaways

  • Lab tests check a sample of fluid from your body, such as blood or urine, and analyze it to see if it falls within the normal testing range for a specific test. 
  • You should consider getting a lab test as part of your annual physical check-up, to help diagnose a condition, identify underlying medical conditions, or monitor treatment. 
  • Numerous factors can influence the accuracy of lab test results, including fasting or not fasting, certain supplements, medications, stress, and intense physical activity. 
  • At-home lab testing with Getlabs provides a safe and convenient way to receive blood or lab draws.

Lab tests are the backbone for modern healthcare. With nearly 14 billion tests ordered annually and 70% of medical decisions relying on lab tests, they’re a critical component of everything from diagnosis, treatment, to prevention. However, despite their prevalence, many of us outside the medical field are not familiar with some of the basics around lab tests, what they are, and what can impact lab results. 

In this article, we will review lab tests and help you to understand their results.

What Is a Lab Test?

Lab tests check a sample of fluid from your body, such as blood or urine, and analyze it to see if it falls within the normal testing range, which differs depending on what the specific test is for. Blood tests are the most common form of lab tests. This is because they can reveal so much information about your body. For example, a blood test can show:

  • Your complete blood count: The number of red and white cells and platelets in your blood.
  • Your hemoglobin levels: This is the amount of iron-rich cells in your blood.
  • Your lipid levels: These refer to the amount of good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
  • Your organ health: Blood tests can tell you if your kidneys and liver are functioning normally. 
  • The presence of disease: Blood tests can reveal specific diseases and disorders such as anemia, cancer, heart disease, and cirrhosis.  
  • Total and specific allergens: If you have an allergy, a blood test can tell you and help narrow down the allergen. 

You can have a lab test taken at your local department of health, hospital, your doctor’s office, or a walk-in lab, or you can buy lab tests online. 

When Should You Get a Lab Test?

Sometimes, a doctor or clinician may recommend a lab test, at other times, you may feel you need one because you have been experiencing certain symptoms or generally not feeling up to par. These are times when you should consider getting a lab test:

  • Your annual physical check-up: Your doctor will usually suggest routine blood work at your annual physical. 
  • Diagnosing a condition: If you are suffering from symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness, skin issues, or digestive problems, your doctor will usually recommend lab work to find the underlying cause. Blood tests can be used to diagnose many conditions from an STD to strep throat. A blood sample can even be used for a pregnancy test.
  • Underlying medical conditions: If you have a family history of certain disorders or diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or a complex medical history of your own, you may want to get regular lab tests to monitor these conditions. 
  • Monitoring treatment: Your doctor may recommend lab tests to monitor ongoing treatment for certain diseases such as chemotherapy for cancer, or treatments for high cholesterol, or diabetes.

When Should You Expect Your Test Results?

Turnaround time will vary depending on a number of factors, such as:

  • The type of test: Some tests are more complicated than others and take more time, or you may be having a combination of tests
  • The urgency of the analysis: If you have the test taken in a hospital and you are in a serious condition, your test may be prioritized

Typically it can take 3-5 business days for lab test results, but in some cases, it may be longer. You can get your results from the lab, your doctor, or your laboratory's patient portal where all your electronic health records (EHRs) are stored.

Understanding Your Test Results

As well as a specific reading of your results, you may also see one of the following terms. 

Positive Test Results

This means that the test found traces of the substance or disease in your blood. You should now make a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider so that they can explain the next steps you should think about taking. You may, in some instances, need a second test to confirm positivity.  

Negative Test Results

If your test result is negative, this means that no traces of the substance or disease was found in your blood. While this may be good news, in some cases, your doctor may recommend a secondary test to eliminate a false-negative result. 

Inconclusive Test Results

If your test result is inconclusive or uncertain, this means that there were insufficient findings in the results to either diagnose or rule out a disease. If you get an inconclusive result your doctor will almost certainly recommend further tests.

False Positive and False Negative Results

If you have a false-positive result, this means that the test indicates that you have a condition, but in actual fact, you do not. 

If you have a false negative result, this means that the test indicates that you do not have a condition, but in actual fact, you do. 

Incorrect tests are not common, but they occur more frequently with certain types of tests, or if there has been an error at the lab. In some multiple tests are needed for a certain diagnosis.

Reference Ranges

When you receive your lab results, you may notice that you are shown as a series of numbers. This is known as a reference range. Reference ranges vary widely depending on the type of test and what’s being measured. 

Typically, the reference range will show values for what is called the normal range, or normal values. A given reference range is based on normal test results of a large test group of healthy people. It allows doctors to know what a healthy test result should look like.

For example, if you have had a cholesterol book test, you may see something like this in your results:

LDL: less than 100 mg/dL

HDL: 40 to 60 mg/dL 

Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL

If your number is outside of the reference range, you have abnormal results, which means your level is too low or too high, your doctor will be able to explain what this means.

What Can Affect Your Test Results?

Numerous factors can affect the accuracy of your blood test results. These include:

  • Fasting or not fasting: Nutrients from the things you eat and drink enter your bloodstream all the time. This can affect the results of some blood tests. This is why you will sometimes be asked to fast before a lab test.
  • Certain supplements: Some dietary supplements can affect your test results. For example, taking a biotin supplement can adversely affect the results of some immunoassays that use biotin as part of the testing process.
  • Certain medications: Just like dietary supplements, some medications can skew your blood test results. Your doctor may recommend that you stop taking specific meds before a lab test. 
  • Stress: Stress can affect some blood tests by releasing cortisol into your bloodstream. You should try to stay relaxed and breathe deeply and slowly while having a blood sample drawn. 
  • Intense physical activity: Working out before a blood test, particularly after fasting, can affect the results of a glucose or cholesterol test.

Get Lab Testing Done at Home with Getlabs

As you can see, lab tests, particularly blood tests, are an important part of maintaining wellness, diagnosing illness, and monitoring treatment. One of the easiest and most private ways to have a lab test is through a mobile lab like Getlabs

Simply book an appointment online. We send a phlebotomist to your home. They take your sample and take it to a local clinical laboratory, and you wait for your laboratory results. It really is that simple, that’s why people love our service so much. We offer over 5,000 laboratory tests and can provide full health information. 

Book an Appointment

Getlabs delivers healthcare to you. Our specialists come to you to collect your labs and deliver them to Labcorp and Quest for testing. We’re available same-day, nationwide.

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