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janbb's avatar

Blood work: do you care about the exact numbers?

Asked by janbb (43547 points ) 1 month ago

Just thinking about this today. Had my physical a few weeks ago with blood work done beforehand. The doctor told me everything looks great – sugar is fine, triglycerides, etc. He said the only thing that is borderline is my cholesterol but I could look after that with diet and exercise. I was very content with hearing all that. I know there are people who really delve into the exact numbers of every aspect. How do you feel about it? Am I being sanguine, (to make a pun) ? No right or wrong answers here; just curious.

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38 Answers

chyna's avatar

My brother always wants to compare his numbers with mine thinking that if his numbers are better that will make him “younger in body” than me, although he is actually 2 years older. So as a competition thing, I care. Other than that, no I don’t watch my numbers.

zenvelo's avatar

Blood work depends on too many factors to care about the exact number; it’s really more about the range.

The 200 goal number for overall cholesterol doesn’t mean you are going to stroke out if you’re 201 and absolutely safe with 199. Rather, that would make one “borderline”.

GloPro's avatar

Chances are the numbers would be different next week. General ranges are all you really need.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’ve never paid attention.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I like having the exact numbers. I like to know exactly where I am so I can watch for trends even within the normal range.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes I care when it is something I am watching or concerned about. I care because movement within the normal range can mean I moving out of the normal range. For instance, I need to take iron to stay in the nornal range. Sometimes if the number is really good I reduce my intake of supplements, but I need to know if I am getting close to below nornal next time I am tested, because my number will continue to go down. I know my pattern pretty well now. But initially when I first was dealing with the anemia I needed the numbers to learn my pattern.

Same with my thyroid. Normal range is about .5–5 usually for TSH. I feel good 2.2–3.5. If I come back with a 1.5 a doctor easily will tell me everything looks great, but I feel horrible. Anxious, not sleeping well, faster heart rate, but I need to know the number, I can’t guess, because some of those symptoms can be from stress also. Especially when I first started on thyroid medicine the way I finally got my thyroid under reasonable control was because the doctor included me in figuring out when I felt good and what my numbers were.

Cholesterol is another. My cholesterol is 270 when I eat how I really like to. In three weeks it will drop to 220’s if I cut my cholesterol intake in half. That is important information, because I know that eating cholesterol really affects my number. If I went by the doctors they just continue to tell me it is high and want to put me on drugs. Not that I am saying it is not still a concern, I am only saying the information about the numbers gives me reason to eat healthier and to narrow down what really influences my numbers. My husband recently went to the doctor and his cholesterol was borderline. I told him to ask her for a follow up test in 4–6 weeks. The doctor said he won’t see any change for three months. Totally false. By the time three months rolls around he might be off his “diet” again. My point with that story is the doctors often don’t watch the patterns, it is up to you to know your own.

Other things I don’t worry about as long as they are normal, because they are always normal.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Yes, I care, especially when you have the numbers available to you right now, to put in a drawer and re-read and check against future blood work.

johnpowell's avatar

Not a shit is given. I just had this done a few weeks ago and everything came back as “Don’t worry about it”.

I suppose if there was a category that I was instructed to watch I would care so I could see if my actions were actually effective.

gailcalled's avatar

No. As one ages, there is more wiggle room, too. My doctor also pooh-poohs those rigid norms for my age group.

Jan, given the distances you can and do walk every week, i would put away the blood work and not even think about it until next year. (How many miles sre you logging weekly, anyway?)

talljasperman's avatar

My doctor said the exact same results…. The test is rigged or our doctors are concealing incompetence.

janbb's avatar

@gailcalled Oh believe me, I was not at all concerned and quite happy with this information. Probably about 6 -10 per week on average.

jca's avatar

I get a copy of the blood test results sent to me and I like to look at the numbers myself.

About 15 years ago, I had a slow thyroid and it wasn’t mentioned to me for about 3 years. Once it was noticed by the negligent doctor, and I began treatment for it (from a different doctor), I realized I can’t rely on the doctor to always be diligent and notice things. I have to oversee what she or he does, since I ultimately am going to have to live with the results. Ever since then, I started getting copies of the results and I look at them, question them, and then file them away. If I change doctors, which I have, I still have my own records.

Since having weight loss surgery, my vitamin levels are an issue. My cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure were always excellent, even when I was over 100 lbs heavier. I don’t get nuts about any of it, I just like to see what the numbers are so I can keep track of any changes.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Whenever I have any kind of medical thing done I ask for all the information I can. I don’t think it’s so much that I’ve overly concerned or anything like that, I’m just a generally curious person.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I want to know the real numbers. Of course I want the doc’s interpretation too but it is important to me to see the real values and the tests that are ordered.

Had I been doing that all along I would have seen that my doc NEVER ORDERED A PSA TEST FOR ME even though I had “Complete” physicals from ages 45 to 55! My high PSA (~20 ng/dl) was discovered during an insurance company screening!
My recovery would have been much better and easier if the tumor was discovered hen it involved only 5% of my prostate instead of 70%.

I completely trusted my GP’s judgement and recommendations. I will never make that mistake again.

downtide's avatar

I like to have the numbers, for comparison. Like @El_Cadejo it’s more out of curiosity than concern.

jca's avatar

I comprehend better by seeing, rather than just hearing. That’s another reason why I like to see the results (and keep them).

LuckyGuy's avatar

Guys, If you are over 40, get your PSA checked. Also remember that any prostate stimulation including a DRE (digital rectal exam) , and ejaculation (sex. will falsely elevate the results. So have your blood drawn at least 48 hours after sex or the exam.

If your doc gives you a DRE and then sends you down the hall to have the blood drawn kick him in the nuts and walk out the door! Most likely your test results will come back high and he will retest in 2 weeks and everything will look normal after yo have 2 weeks of pointless worrying.
Have the blood drawn either before the DRE or at least 48 hours after. And avoid sex for 48 hours before.

If you want consistent, meaningful results you need to take some responsibility, too.
No DRE and no sex for 48 hours! Got it?

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Three years?! Was it borderline?

@janbb Also, I am reminded that one time the nurse called me with lab results for my thyroid and they were outside of normal and she told me to increase my medicine. The problem was I needed to decrease it. If I had not been told my actual result along with the medication recomendation I would not have caught the doctor’s mistake. During that phone call after I pressed her she Put me on hold and doubled checked with the doctor and I was right.

My roomate when I was in my 20’s was never told by her doctor she had a bad pap smear when she found out at her next appointment she was really annoyed and the doctor said since she comes in every 6 months it wasn’t a big deal. Back then a lot of doctors had women on the pill come in every 6 months, maybe it was a law I don’t know. Anyway, the huge problem with that is what if she didn’t go back in 6 months? She had no idea she had something possibly that can lead to cancer that she should be diligent about another pap smear.

Doctors screw up all the time the only way to possibly catch their mistake is to see your results.

janbb's avatar

I guess if I feel healthy and the doctor says my results are good, I don’t worry about it. If something was bothering me, I would definitely question it further. A similar approach worked for my mother until she died at 92 but everyone has a different take on it. Also, I trust my internist.

seekingwolf's avatar

I have a neat set-up with my medical record/tests so that any test results that come out, I can access via online and see them directly for myself. No doctor call needed. I do like to look at the exact numbers but I am not super rigid about them. However, since I’ve had weight loss surgery, I will be getting blood work done every year for the rest of my life.

My cholesterol went from 220 to 136 in 5 months. That made me smile.

JLeslie's avatar

In general I don’t worry about a lot of tests. As I said if I am always normal I don’t worry about exact numbers.

But, with some ailments symptoms don’t readily show up, like @LuckyGuy‘s prostate cancer, and cervical cancer for that matter.

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie I’m certainly not saying not to get the standard tests done!

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb What is standard? My extremely low vitamin D was caught because my endocrinologist tested it. My GP never did. If I had not had a thyroid problem who knows when some doctor would have figured out my D problem. I am symptomatic from low D. At one point a new GP of mine tested me for B12, he does it routinely I guess. Mine was bordering on low. He called me to take supplements, I never had been told that before. @LuckyGuy‘s doctor didn’t think he should do the PSA test as a “standard” test. He probably trusted his doctor. It sucks because we as lay people of course would not necessarily know if a doctor should be testing us for certain things. Some tests I think are a waste to run them. My doctor will order a CBC on me every time I get a thyroid test (every three months approx) I don’t let the lab do it. I know what the CBC is going to say, I don’t expect a big change on those numbers, I get it done every 6 months only for iron and calcium reasons. My husband could go 5 years without getting a basic CBC run and I wouldn’t worry about it. His CBC is screwy, because of his red blood cells, but it is always screwy, that’s his normal because of a genetic disease.

My last GYN always checked iron levels (finger prick results gien to you at the appointment) I have never had a previous GYN do that. I have had GYN’s who never drew a drop of blood and I was using them as my primary at the time.

It doesn’t really have to do with trusting a doctor. Anyone can make a mistake. Doctors see tons of patients. Glancing at test results to be sure everything is normal isn’t bad advice, but I can understand if you feel well that you aren’t very concerned with the results.

LuckyGuy's avatar

My doc did not order the PSA blood test for me because he read a “European study” that showed men were being over-treated due to doctors and patients overreacting to elevated PSA results. He wrongly assumed that “no data” is the same as “ignoring data”.

The odds of me having prostate cancer were low for the following reasons:
1) He regularly performed a DRE and never felt anything.
2) I never had any problems or pain in that area. All parts worked great all the time.
3) There was no history of prostate cancer in my family.
4) I am white, never smoked and have no history of obesity.

HOWEVER, long odds mean nothing when you are the one!

As a side note, when I finally went to the Urologist his DRE was very different from my GP’s. It was much more, how do I say this delicately… “aggressive”. He immediately diagnosed, (correctly as it turned out), the tumor location and relative size. My GP only noted “a slight firmness”.

Rather than relying upon the subjective DRE skills of my GP, an early PSA blood test would have indicated an issue BEFORE the tumor had grown outside the prostate.

Guys, Get it done!

keobooks's avatar

I had all of the symptoms of hypothyroid disease and my doctor kept saying that my TSH and T4 levels were normal. I asked him why I had symptoms of hypothyroid disease and he just shrugged. So I asked for specific numbers, which he very reluctantly gave and said I wouldn’t have any use for the exact numbers. I looked up thyroid disease online and found out there was a new guideline for diagnosing hypothyroid. If we went by the old standard, I was indeed normal in my numbers. By the new standard, I was low. So I went to a new doctor who went by the new standard and finally got treated.

I also have high triglycerides due to medication. Every now and then, a doctor I don’t see often (I have a few specialists) will run a test on me and freak out that they are so high. I then am supposed to make an appointment with my GP so they can figure out what horrible condition I may have. The GP always says my triglycerides are high because of the medication I take and all my other numbers are normal and not to worry. Now I keep track of my triglyceride levels to the exact number. If they are over a certain number, I will call my doc (hasn’t happened yet) but if they are high but within range of what they always are, I ignore it.

Same goes with my blood sugar. It’s borderline high because I have insulin resistance. Every now and then a doc will call me up and say that I need to see my GP ASAP because my blood sugar is high. I used to call her up and she said it was just fine for someone with insulin resistance and I was already taking metformin to fix it. So when a doctor tells me my blood sugar needs to be looked at, I ask them “Is it around 132? Then yeah.. that’s normal for me.”

gondwanalon's avatar

Yes I am very interested in knowing all about my blood test results (chemistry, cell counts etc.) also every other type of tests done on me. It’s very important to know what is going on with our health and also take responsibility for it. Doctors can not make us well. That’s our job.

Also it’s important to know the significance of your test results. My boss at work has a very high total Cholesterol (280 mg/dL) and her doctor wanted her to start taking a statin drug. However she also has very high HDL cholesterol (well over 100 mg/dL), low LDL and low triglycerides, which means that she has a safe cholesterol ratio and does not need statin therapy.

@LuckyGuy Last week my PSA result was 0.47 ng/mL. No surprize there. It has always been very low (I’m 63 year old).

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: It was 5.5 and then 8.0 and then 8.5. I had asked my doctor (older male doctor in a rich area) why it was in the “high normal range” and he said “those are just general guidelines” and if I felt ok, it was fine. Then his replacement (a younger woman doctor) had not mentioned it for the following two years until I looked at the results (which, by then, 8.5 was showing “high”) and asked her on the phone what was going on. She seemed surprised. She wanted to put me on medication immediately, but I said I wanted to find out why it was high. It turned out I had nodules on my thyroid. I had them biopsied (another story which I won’t retell because it’s too long) and all is well now.

I had no symptoms, except weight gain, which could be attributed to any number of factors at the time (starting a new sedentary job, etc.) which is why, when someone like @janbb says she feels ok and she goes by that, that does not fly with me.

janbb's avatar

@jca I said I feel ok, had a physical and the results of my bloodwork were fine. I said I didn’t need specific details once those conditions were satisfied but each to his own.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca 8.5 is very high. It’s why I tell people to see an endocrinologist when someone has symptoms and their numbers are questionable. GP’s undertreat or fail to treat thyroid all the time. I have gotten into it with rarebear about it. He wasn’t very happy with me, but there are so many stories like yours. So, had the female doctor assumed you were on meds already? Has she missed the high result when you were under her care?

I think it’s fine for @janbb to not pay close attention to her numbers if she feels ok. But, I think a quick glance to make sure nothing is high or low is worth it.

jca's avatar

@janbb: Yes, I understand, but you also said “I guess if I feel health and the doctor says my results are good, I don’t worry about it.”

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: True. Even when the TSH was high, though, I didn’t have any of the typical symptoms – constipation, hair falling out, lethargy. Even now, if I neglect my thyroid meds (the only medication I take, I might add) and my numbers get a little high, I feel ok. When my TSH got too low, from the meds being too much, my period changed and I was a bit energetic, but nothing crazy.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca A lot of people are not very symptomatic. It’s possible your T4 and T3 are not very abnormal even when your TSH is high, and that would account for not having many symptoms. Had the female doctor missed your high number? She ran a blood test and missed it? Or, she was just taking you over as a patient and didn’t look back at your old tests?

jca's avatar

@JLeslie: I think she was a new doctor. She would review the results and say it all looked ok. It wasn’t until I pointed it out after the second time with her that she seemed to have an “ah ha moment.” That’s why I am all about not just taking the word of the doctor.

JLeslie's avatar

@jca Incredible. That means to me she didn’t look at the results possibly. I don’t know how it works in doctors offices. Maybe the nurses screen out the tests and look for low and high and the doctors just sign off? I have to ask my sister.

I had a nurse tell me my tests were fine several months ago and I said I wanted to know my numbers for my iron related tests. She wasn’t giving them to me. I got pretty aggravated, it was obvious in my tone. She transferred me to he doctor, which was completely unnecesarry and the doctor tried to reassure me my numbers were only a little low and it was nothing to worry about. She talked to me like I was a panicked hypochondriac. I’m so sick of being perceived that way just because I want a test result. I was not panicked in any way shape or form, I was just pissed. My low number does matter, because as I mentioned above in an answer, my numbers will continue to go down and down without increasing my iron intake.

I think doctors worry patients will get upset about minor things and they don’t want to deal with it. That’s my guess anyway. Or, they don’t want to bother doing the work it takes to give us the results. In some states patients can get their results directly from the lab. Quest lab has an app for it. It’s ilegal in my state. Ironically, I am sure the lobby for doctors fights it tooth and nail.

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie It must be hard to have to have so much contact with a profession you have such mistrust of.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb I appreciate you saying that. It caused me incredible anxiety for the first few years when things started going wrong with my health. I really worked on trying to put things into perspective to be able to still go to the doctor. I still am not great at it, which I am sure is very obvious to anyone who has listened to me discuss medical care. I am fascinated by people who have had bad experiences, but seem to take it in stride. I know a lot of people very similar to me though. Many many people.

A woman in the supermarket today started telling me about her health and that the eighth doctor finally diagnosed her slow thyroid, Lymes disease, and a couple of other things. I didn’t even share my experience really, except to empathasize. Mostly, I listened, told her I was glad she found a doctor who believes her and is working with her, and that I truly believe she can get better. Not a 100% maybe, but much better, because that has been my experience.

The supermarket! A stranger. It is ridiculous. I’m trying to think how often I hear good medical stories and maybe I am dwelling on the bad stories and ignoring the good ones? Maybe I need to focus on the good stories.

Not to mention a distant cousin of mine died this morning. She went for a biopsy yesterday and died this morning in the wee hours. Looks like the doctors killed her. I don’t see how anyone can see it any other way. I don’t know if they actually made a mistake or if she just had a complication secondary to the surgery. My other cousin said the biopsy took a much larger chunk out of her than anyone expected and she was sent home when she previously has had problems following procedures. I really don’t know all the details though.

janbb's avatar

I’m sorry to hear about your cousin – that must be a shock.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, it is shocking. I only came to know her about a year ago. We were Facebook friends. She recently had asked me if she saw a resemblance with her mom and my dad’s mom. She had sent me some photos. We didn’t even know she existed until a year ago. So, my feelings are mostly how I would feel if anyone would have such a thing happen, not so much like it was a big personal loss of someone close to me. Still, my family is so small it is so cool when we find someone, so I can’t believe this happened in such a short time of getting to know her.

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