Blood Tests 101: Understanding the Acronyms

Published on

Topics include: Living Well | Self-Advocacy and Empowerment and Understanding

More often than not, patients struggle to understand what the complex acronyms, numbers and symbols mean when blood work is returned. Patient Power Contributor, Dr. Susan Leclair breaks down what acronyms like MCV, and others mean. As a laboratory scientist for over 40 years, she makes educating patients a priority as they battle a serious illness.

 

View more programs featuring

Transcript

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Hello.  I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power.  You know, blood tests results are not easy to understand.  Believe me, I’ve had many blood tests, and I’m still trying to figure out what all those acronyms mean.  WBC, CBC, LDL, HDL—what does it all mean? 

Well, Dr. Susan Leclair is our new Patient Power contributor, and she is an expert in laboratory science, and she is very devoted, to all of us, understanding those acronyms so we can play a greater role in our own care.  Here’s Susan. 

Dr. Leclair:

Another part of the CDC involves describing red cells, and there are multiple ways to describe them.  You can measure the amount of hemoglobin that’s in them.  You can count them.  The most accurate test we had from the 1930s, when it was invented, until approximately the 1980s, was something called the hematocrit, where you took—as the slide kind of shows you—where you took a sample of blood and then you centrifuged it down so that the red cells were packed at the bottom of the test tube.  That packing of red cells, also sometimes known as packed cell volume—we’re very unimaginative with names—tells you the percentage of the blood that is red cells. 

For men, 40 to 46 sounds about right, for women, 38ish to 44—women have a slightly lower hematocrit than men because we have less testosterone and that’s one of the things that causes red cell development.  So that’s the hematocrit, and all it really tells you is how many cells you’ve got.  Do you have enough, do you have too many, do you have not enough.  It’s very vague. 

And if somebody were to have an anemia, that is a hematocrit below their reference range, well, there are some five dozen opportunities that can cause an anemia.  Do you really want me to do five dozen more tests, or is there another way to kind of narrow down the causes so I can just test for those?  And that happens to be the red cell indices, invented, by the way, by the same guy who invented the hematocrit. 

One of them is the MCV; mean cell volume.  And in the mean cell volume it’s really easy.  It’s an average, so you have to go back to your fifth grade math.  If I know the total volume of the blood specimen, let’s say 1 mL, and I know the percentage of that 1 mL that is composed of red cells of a hematocrit of 40, then I can calculate what the average size of the red cell is, and that’s the mean cell volume. 

And since I’m running out of time we’ll save the RDW for the next time, when we explain how changes in the MCV gives a physician a way to determine cause.  I know this is short and I know that I probably made you have a lot more questions.  If you do want to ask me, send them to comments@patientpower.info. 

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you for joining us.  Dr. Susan Leclair will be back with more important information for you, the patient, as we continue our series with her.  We’re delighted to have her as a Patient Power contributor. 

I’m Andrew Schorr.  Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Advertisement
Join Our Community Register for Events Read Our Latest Blog
Advertisement

Page last updated on March 7, 2019