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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.