Blood Test Results : Know Your Numbers

We put a lot of faith in GPs, specialists and reception staff when we’re given test results. After a blood test, we may be told something is normal, borderline or abnormal. We may be told no action is needed, a repeat test is required, supplements or dietary and lifestyle changes should be made, or that a prescription is necessary. These numbers are important, and yet we are almost blindly relying on their correct interpretation and communication. After years of misdiagnoses and finding numerous problems with blood tests, I would suggest knowing your numbers and being involved in this process.

The Problem With Test Results

  1. For many conditions and deficiencies, each GP practice will have its own ‘normal range’. This varies by practice, Trust area and country. Your result may be normal in one place, but abnormal in another. Look online and you’ll find a similar issue, with suggested normal levels slightly different from different sources. If you have symptoms of something but fall in a normal range that’s too restrictive, you will miss being diagnosed or investigated further. Thyroid problems come to mind here; it can be a fight to have your doctor accept the normal range isn’t always ‘right’ but it’s important to know the issue so that it can be challenged.
  2. If you are very close to being over or under the normal range, this may still be automatically reported as being normal rather than borderline. The result could even be reported as borderline, but with no further action required. If you have symptoms that correspond with being over or under, it’s likely further investigation or treatment would be beneficial, yet this will then be classed as unnecessary and be missed.
  3. Reception staff can get it wrong, if indeed they report something back to you. As an example, I was once told my result was ‘normal’, only to discover when I later ask the GP for the levels that somehow the result hadn’t even been reported, that the blood test had somehow disappeared. I’m not sure how the receptionist told me a result that didn’t even exist, but if I had pushed a little deeper at the time I would have known this. If I didn’t ask the GP, if the test wasn’t then re-done, I wouldn’t have know I was in fact quite seriously deficient.

We miss all of this information when we don’t know our numbers. We risk being ill-informed, potentially misdiagnosed, and we miss avenues worth exploring.

How To Get Your Results

The most straightforward answer would be to ask at reception for them. Some reception staff will refuse to read out test results, and obviously they can’t sit and read them all if you’ve had various things tested. You could try asking for a certain reading, such as your folate level, but it’s not guaranteed that they’ll tell you. You can ask your GP or specialist who requested the test, who should tell you so you can make a note.

If you want to know your level, you could try something alone the lines of : ‘I had a blood test recently and would just like to know the level of abc for my own reference, please’.

If you’ve been treated for something and want to know the level anyway, you could try something like : ‘I’ve recently been given a prescription for xyz as I was a little low on abc so I was just wondering if you could please advise my abc level from the last blood test, just for my own reference’.

You can also request a printout of your test results; a receptionist will generally have to get permission from the doctor to do this (in the UK, at least) and they may charge a small fee for printing costs (ie. 10p per sheet).

A lot of doctors surgeries now offer an online account service for patients. Check your GP website or enquire at reception. You should be able to register for an online account in person at the surgery with a form of ID, where they’ll give you log-in details. In your account, there should be an area dedicated to test results. Note that not all results will show here, such as from other specialists or a hospital stay, but those sent directly to the GP should appear.

Tips For Knowing Your Numbers

  • Try to be calm but assertive when asking; you have a right to know your results, but they may not be readily forthcoming with them.
  • If you are asking for them in person, take a pen and paper or use your phone to jot them down.
  • Ask for the measurement used, ie. ug/L, 10*9/L or fL.  Some aspects can be measured in different formats, such as the difference between centimetres and inches, so it’ll save some confusion knowing the unit employed.
  • Think about what it is you want to decide the best way to get the result. Do you want one specific reading, such as your ferritin level because you’re concerned of low iron? Do you want to generally check everything they’ve tested for in a full blood count (FBC)? If it’s the former, you could do this in person or over the telephone and make a note. If it’s the latter, an online account or printout would be easier.
  • You can search for more information on ‘normal ranges’ online and see whether there are any common problems encountered with that specific reading / diagnosis (ie. hypothyroidism). It may take a little time to mine for information; make sure you’re looking at reliable sources, and don’t just take the information from one site, try to confirm it elsewhere, too. Online research is a wonderful thing and I think it can be incredibly enlightening and empowering for us as patients, but be aware of getting too deep in it or panicking yourself over something that hasn’t been diagnosed.
  • Keep hold of any results you obtain as you may wish to refer to them in future. Ditto for the online research. They will also come in handy if you wish to approach your GP or specialist about your results.

These are only my own thoughts and suggestions from my own experience. I am not a doctor. I think that knowledge is power and we need to empower and equip ourselves when it comes to our health, but this does not mean going rogue and trying to diagnose and treat things without solid confirmation and professional support.

It may be better to have the numbers as your disposal than not to know, to avoid anything slipping by unnoticed, and to empower yourself with your own health.

Have you ever had issues with your blood test results before? Have you been misdiagnosed as a result? Do you get your results sometimes for yourself, or investigate further online? I’d love to know if anyone has had similar experiences and whether being actively involved in the process is something you aim to do.

Caz  




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37 Comments

  1. August 21, 2018 / 2:59 pm

    This is a really useful post. I think we can be a bit put off for asking for results especially if the receptionist can be a bit frosty but we shouldn’t be.

    Rachael | https://rachaelstray.com/

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:15 am

      Exactly, it’s easy to be discouraged because it’s made difficult to get our results and yet we have a right to see them and question them as well if needs be. Thanks for the comment, Rachael – have a good week 🙂
      x

  2. August 21, 2018 / 3:15 pm

    Here in BC (Canada) we have a program called My E-Health where I can register, then login to get the results of my blood work. Because I have Type 2 Diabetes, I go for testing ever 3 months, and that way I can get the average of my blood sugars through a test called an A1C – that’s the number that measures the average of my blood sugar over a three month period of time. It’s an important part of my tracking for diabetes and helps me know if I’m on track or if my eating is out of control.

    The convenience of being able to check my own results online rather than having to call my doctor or make an appointment to see her is wonderful. I can print the report as well or go back to see previous reports as well, so I’ve got my history on file. Brilliant!

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:14 am

      I think you’ve made a really important point with an ongoing condition that needs close monitoring like Type 2 Diabetes; these sorts of systems are invaluable, so I’m glad you have the My E-Health to provide easy access to your blood results. I’m really glad you have that system in place in Canada and hopefully such useful ways of accessing out own data will become more common-place over time. Thank you for sharing and commenting, Pamela, I really appreciate it 🙂

  3. August 21, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    In the Canadian province where I live there is an online lab results system that patients can log into and see all of their lab results along with normal ranges. It’s a real-time system, so as soon as the lab has the results I can see them. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:11 am

      That is a brilliant idea, and very efficient to hear it’s updated in real-time, too! Hopefully this sort of system will become common-place because it really is so useful. Thanks for sharing =]

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:10 am

      Thank you, I’m really glad you thought so! Have a good week ahead, Rachel 🙂

  4. August 21, 2018 / 3:50 pm

    Very useful post, it is too easy to just accept that the levels are normal, but if there has been a significant change then we should be made aware of this.
    Hospitals can be very wary of giving patients information, for example when I was on Herceptin (for breast cancer) I had to have my heart function monitored. The cancer centre had asked me to get a printed copy and let the nurse have it at my next appointment – as the nurse administered the Herceptin at my house she would only have access to my paper notes, not test results sent electronically. Every time I had to explain this to hospital and every time they were reluctant to give me the results.

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:10 am

      I’m sorry you struggled to get proper access to yours when we needed them, especially when the request was coming from the cancer centre and not even you individually (where you’d think there’d be a higher change of reluctance to give them). Just goes to show that things need to continue to change in this regard; collaboration and openness are so important for effective healthcare and so patients and doctors/specialists can collaborate to improve the experience overall. Thank you for sharing, Karen 🙂
      xx

  5. August 21, 2018 / 4:09 pm

    My doctor is very good at letting me know what the numbers mean and what I can do to improve them. This is a great post on getting those answers.

    Have a fabulous day. ♥

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:08 am

      It’s great to hear your doc is good when it comes to test results, gives us all hope when we experience too many doctors who aren’t! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. August 21, 2018 / 5:30 pm

    I have always had access to my lab results, even before patient portals my doctors would show me my results and give me a print out if asked. I have never been asked to pay for them printing them, the only time I’ve been asked for payment is when I’m asking for all my records and there are a lot…but now they usually give them on a disc.
    I do have problems with “normal” ranges. I will have symptoms but my test will show normal levels, that stops the investigation. I have hypothyroidism and I’ve never felt it was totally controlled. My levels are “normal”. often borderline, but they say, no additional treatment is necessary.
    I’ve had a bad time with the normal range with my CSF (Cerebral Spinal Fluid) pressure. I’ve had numerous lumbar punctures, some showed high normal, so most doctors do not consider my levels High. However I was a specialist at Duke who believes in empirical testing. When I was having my LP, she added some fluid back in to see how my symptoms got and she took extra out to see my symptoms, this confirmed I have Intracranial Hypertension, but that’s hard to prove to my new doctors who only see the numbers.
    I want to see my doctors notes from every visit. I want to see exactly what they say about me. I don’t want to have records transferred to other doctors before I read them.
    I think it’s very important to know what they put in my permanent record. (Ha, I sound like I’m in school)
    Great post Caz.
    I hope all your test results are accurate and understood in the future.
    xo

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:07 am

      It’s refreshing to hear you’ve been getting your results for some time without any problems, that’s brilliant! On the other hand, I’m sorry you know all too well the problem with ‘normal’ ranges and borderline results and yet still having symptoms, which are all then dismissed because the results aren’t chronically off their scale. Taking a more ‘whole’ view of the situation and not simply relying on numbers to dismiss patients is so important & I hope more doctors and specialists are open-minded enough to come to appreciate this. You’re right about the record issue; it’s not just blood results but what they actually say about you. I found in my discharge notes from A&E where they list what conditions a patient has two things that I simply don’t have! Always pays to keep on top of these things because errors and omissions sadly do happen all too often… Thanks for the great comment, Wendy, it’s much appreciated!
      Caz xx

  7. August 21, 2018 / 7:02 pm

    Absolutely agree with you, Caz. Nothing beats knowing the test results. I always ask for a copy, and so far this never was a problem.

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:57 pm

      I’m glad you get your results too and don’t have any problems with doing so. Thanks for the comment, Viola! 🙂
      xx

  8. August 21, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    I can see all my blood test results here: https://www.patientsknowbest.com/

    I was asked to join this site during an outpatient appointment at St Mary’s in London. Might be worth looking into it 🙂

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:57 pm

      I’ve heard of the site but didn’t know you can see blood results on it – will definitely look into this so thanks for sharing, it’s always good to have new avenues to explore so I’m sure I’m not the only one that will appreciate it! Thank you and I hope the weekend is a good one for you 🙂
      Caz xx

  9. August 21, 2018 / 9:54 pm

    Very good post. I have quite a few files of all my test results. Thats one thing I learnt within a year of having my first “auto immune condition ” wish I had the first results. It would be interesting to see what they were to alert my doctor to do further testing. Now I always walk out with my test results as they are mine after all 🙂 My Nephrologist sends them to me along with sending to my gp which is good.

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:55 pm

      I feel the same, wishing I’d started early on with getting information and records of things, but at least you picked it up along the way. It’s fab that your specialist sends them to you now without you having to request them too! Thanks for the comment – I hope you have a lovely weekend 🙂 xx

  10. August 22, 2018 / 1:18 am

    good tips. I have a large 3-ring binder where I make sure to keep copies of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g health realated — have had doctors lose my files!

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:20 pm

      That’s a good idea, a huge binder for copies of everything you can! I have various folders for different bits and pieces that has grown as time’s gone by, and always find myself going back for things so it’s definitely useful for future reference. Thanks for the comment! Hope your weekend is a positive one =]

  11. August 22, 2018 / 3:51 am

    I’ve experienced this many times where the doctors tell me my results are ‘normal’ then a few months later I’m told they’re really low or high and then when you go back and look at the test results turns out they were read incorrectly. Also, how is it always that my fluid and electrolyte balance are always normal even after vomiting and not having eaten since?
    Problem is if you get your blood tests done in a hospital they rarely ever show them to you and so I can’t get access to them and see them.

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:19 pm

      I’m sorry you’ve also had similar experiences with not being told the appropriate thing following results. You have a right to know results, even though it’s more difficult in a hospital setting, perhaps you should ask whoever is doing them or whoever you see there to know the actual figures for your own reference and see what’s said. x

  12. August 22, 2018 / 6:57 am

    Caz this is a great post! I agree and do the same… I ask for results also.

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:16 pm

      I’m glad you liked the post and also that you get your results, too. I do think it can be very beneficial. Thanks for the comment and have a lovely weekend, Christy! 🙂

  13. Margaret
    August 22, 2018 / 9:22 pm

    You are so right Caz. Asking, and knowing basically being involved. Since dealing with all the stuff with my mom over the past 6 weeks, being sure to keep up, ask questions because things get overlooked, or passed by if you don’t. Great post that gives lots of useful, and CRUCIAL information to help us. I also want to thank you for your supportive, lovely comment about best wishes for my mom. I really appreciated that. It meant more than you will ever know 🙂

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:11 pm

      I’m glad you’re there for your mum and that you’re so on the ball with it all too, it’s important to be involved because as you say, you might just get passed by otherwise. You’re more than welcome for the comment and likewise I appreciate all of your support on InvisiblyMe and with my own challenges. I’m glad to say I ‘know’ you in the online world Margaret – sending love and best wishes for a positive weekend xxxx

    • August 25, 2018 / 4:09 pm

      I saw that – that’s very kind of you, Erin, thank you – congrats on your nomination too! 🙂

  14. August 23, 2018 / 3:55 pm

    You’re so right about needing to know your results. My hubby just had his second ER visit in a week, and thankfully, we’re able to get online and see the results for ourselves. This is especially helpful if you’ve been treated by emergency doctors since you see so many people and they tell you so many test results over the time that you’re there it’s hard to keep them all straight….. Thanks for sharing some great tips about knowing your numbers. Another brilliant post!

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:01 am

      I’m so sorry about your hubby having to go back to ER. How’s he doing now? I think it’s great you can see the results from there, and as you say when you end up with so many results and different people in the mix it can be hard to keep track of things. Sending my best wishes to your husband and hoping this week is a little better for the both of you xxxx

      • August 30, 2018 / 9:45 pm

        Thank you so much Caz. He’s definitely better, at least pain-wise, than he was while in the hospital, but he’s still not 100%. He’s definitely getting tired of taking it easy though.😊

  15. August 25, 2018 / 9:45 am

    Great post. I find that some older doctors in particular are still reluctant to give out blood test results, but attitudes are slowly changing. Healthcare works best when it is a collaborative process between doctor and patient,

    • August 28, 2018 / 8:02 am

      You’re right, there’s still quite a gap between those ‘stuck’ in their ways but things are changing and improving, albeit rather slowly and gradually. Definitely agree there – the collaboration makes things so much smoother and more efficient in the long run. Thanks for the comment, Nick! Have yourself a good week 🙂

  16. September 5, 2018 / 7:17 am

    This is great advice. Always a good idea to have an idea of what is “normal” and what is not. Also a good idea to keep in mind that just looking at one number doesn’t give the whole picture. So a number that is a little off might not be such a concern as long as ALL the other numbers are ok. But numbers that are a little off could be REALLY bad if the other numbers are all off, too. That is why it is a great idea to discuss it with your doctor and not just rely on looking at the numbers. But it also makes a big difference if you are always getting blood work and looking at a specific number. I haven’t had blood work done in twelve years. I hate going to the doctor!

    • September 7, 2018 / 4:26 pm

      Exactly, it’s not just the numbers, everything should be considered together and sadly that doesn’t always happen. I’m amazed you haven’t had a blood test in 12 years, I wish I could say the same! Stay healthy and avoid the needle 🙂
      Thank you for the great comment – Have a lovely weekend xx

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