What can I do with my blood test data?
May 23, 2012 1:42 PM   Subscribe

How can I make the most of the blood test results I have just received?

I just got my blood test results from my annual physical. I'm "normal" on everything...but the ranges sure seem big.

I'm wondering whether there's something like an app where I insert my blood test results and the app tells me ways to improve my health.

I'm sure the answer will always be "eat better" and "exercise more," but I'm sitting here with this sexy pile of data and I don't know how to use it.

posted by jefficator to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a doctor in charge of your physical, or do they just send you to a lab? If it's the former, ask that doctor.
posted by griphus at 1:43 PM on May 23, 2012

Do you understand what all the tests are measuring? If not, you could start there. Your doctor's office or the lab you visited could help you better understand what the numbers mean.

If all your numbers are within the normal range, you can use those results as a baseline for future comparison. Test results really mean very little in a vacuum unless the numbers are out of range. I mean, you've got a normal hemoglobin - great! There's not a lot to do with that information by itself. If, at your next physical, your hemoglobin is low, you and your doctor could then look into reasons why that might be. (Obviously, I'm just picking on hemoglobin as an example - I have no idea what tests you had done.)
posted by pecanpies at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

With due respect to you griphus, a doctor is unlikely to have much helpful advice to the person whose lab values are all "normal".

There are wide ranges on many lab results, that's because there's a wide range of what is normal. People are different. These numbers don't actually provide much specific info about your health anyway. Even if you were wildly out of range for something or some things, even a doctor couldn't always tell you the precise reason why. They might have some tips for raising your hemoglobin (eat more iron rich foods) or lowering your cholesterol (eat less bacon), but there's also just a range of values in different people that isn't always easily explained. We're just different, it's part of having a body.

Anyway, you do already know the answer: Exercise more. Eat more veggies. Reduce stress. Avoid smoke. Drink in moderation. Consider taking up meditation or a relaxing hobby. These kinds of vague, blanket advice are remarkably effective at keeping humans alive and healthy.
posted by latkes at 1:51 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

With due respect to you griphus, a doctor is unlikely to have much helpful advice to the person whose lab values are all "normal".

Well, that comes from personal experience. I need to get bloodwork done regularly, and it tends to come back normal, but my doctor usually has something to say about this being a little high or this being a little low and maybe to avoid this or do more of that. YMMV.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not satisfying in the short term but you might want to make sure you keep this information somewhere where you'll be able to find it for comparison in the future. Like others have said, labs within normal ranges don't tell you much, but after a few years you could look for any trends in the data. (Although again, small variations mean very little. Try taking your blood pressure 4 times in a half hour. You may get a surprising range of results.)
posted by Wretch729 at 1:57 PM on May 23, 2012

Best answer: There is a commercial version of what you have in mind at: insidetracker.com. This might be a good starting point.

You can also browse Quantified Self's Guide to over 500 tools or check the rest of the QS website.
posted by KMB at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep a copy someplace safe for the future. Keep the results from future physicals together and take a look at how things are changing over time. Looking at trends in values is probably more valuable than looking at a single datapoint given you were normal across the board. It might also be very useful in the future if something lands outside of the normal range and you can look back to see if it's a trend or an abnormality...

The normal ranges typically are large because the values can vary widely - maybe even day by day. If you are in the range, the doctor might not be able to distinguish a bad test, from something you ate last week, from a high value related to your long term health...
posted by NoDef at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2012

I'll third keeping the results in a safe place for future comparison. But also keep in mind that different labs can have different reference ranges, so unless things are always done with the same doctor and with the same pathology group, it still might be hard to compare. Also, with a few exceptions, out of range tests by themselves can often be passed over by doctors unless there are corresponding clinical symptoms.

I keep a spreadsheet of my results, along with the reference ranges from the labs to monitor trends. But I also have a full blood work-up once every 4-6 weeks due to my conditions and medications.
posted by michswiss at 5:38 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

...I'm sitting here with this sexy pile of data and I don't know how to use it.

The problem is you're thinking about blood chemistry like it's complicated but really, it's complex. So even though it seems like you have a pile of data, there are multiple different feedback loops driving each of those numbers, so teasing apart the nuances of the data is like trying to solve a single equation with many, many variables. You can tell if somethings really off, but you look at the likely issues, then the less likely issues, then the even less likely issues until you get to the stuff us in episodes of House.

To give you an idea of what you're up against, here's a road map of the major biological pathways. There are more.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:02 AM on May 24, 2012

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