According to healthcare providers and experts in this space, doing blood tests annually (once a year) can essentially help you track your overall physical health and wellbeing. The results ensure that you have relevant information about changes (good or bad) in your body, this gives you the knowledge you need to make measured and informed decisions about your health. Thus, in case an illness is detected, you’re able to either get treatment or begin to make lifestyle changes early on—this information can save a life in the case of diseases like cancer where early detection can make a difference between life and death.
These test results can essentially provide a holistic snapshot of your current state of health and how it’s changing over time - for those on different types of treatment - the blood tests can give you the information you and the doctor need to understand whether it's working or not.
According to experts in this area, blood tests have multiple benefits that include:
- Providing a view of an individual’s overall physical health
- Determining the risk status for diseases like cancer and some common lifestyle conditions like diabetes
- Checking treatment success and identifying possible side effects
- Assessing how well certain organs, such as your liver and kidneys are working
- Early diagnosis of conditions like HIV before symptoms or complications develop
- Monitoring chronic disease status and progression
- A reliable indicator for hormone levels in both men and women, such as testosterone, progesterone, DHEA-S, and Estradiol among various others.
Who should get a test?
The reason to get a blood test will likely depend on several factors, including but not limited to:
- Chronic conditions under evaluation or treatment
- Family history
- Health screenings
- Medical history
- Specific concerns
Keep in mind that blood tests can be done to detect many kinds of illnesses, we will only mention a few types of blood tests that are available:
Type1: Complete blood count
- It can test for levels of red blood cells which serve to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body: when found to be higher or lower than normal - this could be an indication of dehydration, anaemia, or bleeding (1, 2).
- It also tests for levels of white blood cells that are part of the immune system, whose function is to fight infections and diseases (1, 2): when found to be higher or lower than normal - this could be an indication of infection, blood cancer, or an immune system disorder.
- Helps monitor Platelet levels, which are blood cell fragments that help your blood clot: when found to be higher or lower than normal - may be a sign of a clotting disorder or a bleeding disorder.
- Provides a view of Hemoglobin levels, which is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen: when found to be lower than normal - this may indicate signs of anaemia, sickle cell disease, or thalassemia (1,2).
Hematocrit levels, provide a measure of how much space red blood cells take up in your blood: when found to be too high - it might mean you’re dehydrated. Meanwhile, low hematocrit levels may be a sign of anaemia (1).
Type 2: Basic (or comprehensive) metabolic panel
According to experts, the objective of a basic metabolic panel (BMP) is to check for levels of eight compounds in the blood. Thus providing personalised and timeous important information about the body's chemical balance and metabolism (this is the process of how the body uses food and energy). A BMP includes tests for the following:
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
This test may require you to fast for at least 8 hours before your blood is drawn, depending on the instructions of your healthcare provider regarding what the test is measuring. Patients who receive abnormal results may indicate signs of illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes and hormone imbalances (1). The healthcare provider can advise on the next steps.
Note that patients also have the option to get a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) — which is another blood test. It checks for the same substances as a basic metabolic panel blood test, but it also measures chemicals made by the liver, including Albumin, Alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transaminase (ALT), and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) (which are the different enzymes a liver needs to function properly), and Bilirubin.
Type 3: Lipid panel
According to experts in this space, a lipid panel or lipid profile is a common blood test that healthcare providers use to monitor and screen for people’s risk of cardiovascular disease. The panel includes three measurements of your cholesterol levels and the measurement of your triglycerides (1).
It checks the levels of two types of cholesterol:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol
HDL is “good” because it removes harmful substances from the blood and helps the liver break them down into waste. LDL is “bad” because it can cause plaque to develop in your arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.
Depending on the type of test, the doctor might recommend that you fast for at least 9 to 12 hours before this test. For the "fasting" cholesterol test (also called a "lipid profile"), the lab will analyze your levels of LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol (1). If it's a "non-fasting" cholesterol test, the lab will look only at your total cholesterol (and sometimes your HDL) numbers. For that test, experts say you merely need to show up at the lab and have some blood drawn. Depending on the results, they may then send you back for the more complete lipid profile
If you’d like to know more about cholesterol, its triggers, signs and how to prevent it, see our blog for further details.
Type 4: Cardiac enzyme biomarkers
According to scientists in this area, an cardiac enzyme marker blood test (also called cardiac biomarkers) measures specific biological markers (biomarkers) in a person’s blood. This is an important test because the enzymes contain proteins that help your body accomplish chemical processes such as breaking down food and clotting blood. They’re used throughout your body for many vital functions.
Abnormal enzyme levels (elevated) can indicate many conditions, including hepatitis or liver disease, muscle damage, dystrophy, or inflammation signs of a heart attack or another heart condition — common enzymes tested include:
- Creatine kinase (CK): this is an enzyme primarily located in the brain, heart, and skeletal muscle. When any of these muscles experience damage due to injury or disease, CK seeps into the blood in growing amounts (1).
- Creatine kinase-MB (CK-MB): these enzymes are found in the heart (1). They are known to increase in the blood after a heart attack or other heart injury.
- Troponin: this is a heart enzyme that can leak into your blood and result in a heart attack also medically referred to as myocardial infarction.
Who needs this kind of test? Your healthcare provider may order a cardiac enzyme test if you have symptoms of a possible heart problem. These symptoms include:
- Chest pain.
- Profuse sweating.
- Shortness of breath.
Type 5: Sexually transmitted infection tests
Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be diagnosed using a blood sample. A test is essential, especially since according to the WHO — more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day worldwide, the majority of which are asymptomatic.
Unlike the other blood tests mentioned above, STI tests are often combined with urine samples or swabs of infected tissue for more accurate diagnoses (1).
The following STIs can be diagnosed with blood tests:
Note that blood tests aren’t always accurate right after contracting an infection. Experts recommend that for an HIV infection, for example, you may need to wait at least a month before a blood test can detect the virus.
Type 6: C-reactive protein test
C-reactive protein (CRP) is made by the liver when tissues in your body are inflamed. LDL cholesterol not only coats the walls of your arteries but also damages them. According to scientists, this damage causes inflammation that the body tries to heal by sending a "response team" of proteins called "acute phase reactants." CRP is one of these proteins.
One study found that testing for CRP levels is a better indicator of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than the LDL test (1). But, it's important to know that a CRP test is not a test for heart disease. It's a test for inflammation in the body.
Hence high CRP levels indicate inflammation from a variety of causes, including:
- Bacterial or viral infection
- Autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflammation related to diabetes
- Inflammation related to physical trauma or from habits like smoking
Note that the higher the level of CRP, the higher the risk of heart disease. We recommend that you speak to your healthcare provider for more information on the risks.
With developments in at-home health tech, there are a variety of reliable blood tests that can be done from home. They offer people a chance to conveniently get a snapshot of their health status done without the hassle of a lab, without compromising on the quality of results. If you’re considering one, it's important to note that at-home blood testing is a safe, reliable way to complete a wide range of diagnostic and preventative health screening tests. They can be used to check for many common conditions, such as diabetes, liver function, heart health, viral and some bacterial infections.
But with that in mind, with some disorders, people still need to visit a lab for blood tests for a detailed diagnosis, and you’ll need to meet with a doctor if you receive abnormal results to discuss a treatment plan.