Every time you undergo a lab test, you get a result. It can be an online report or it could be a result card with the report printed on it. You have to take the report to your doctor who will explain it to you. But if you don’t want to wait that long, you can teach yourself a little bit about lab test results and what they mean.
What are lab tests?
When you are sick or when you opt for a preventive health care check-up, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests. These tests are administered by clinicians or healthcare providers. They draw a syringe of your blood or collect samples of your urine, stool or tissues. Then these samples are analysed to give a detailed insight into your health.
That is why lab tests are considered as pillars of the world of health care. Based on the results of lab tests, your medical history and physical examination, your doctor will know just which disorder is ailing you and what treatment would work best for that particular ailment.
What purpose do lab tests serve?
Lab tests can screen or diagnose an illness, monitor a health condition and reveal whether medication is working, or simply ensure that everything is okay inside your body.
Here is a detailed explanation of why people need lab tests-
To detect or rule out an illness
This is a diagnostic test that will find out if you have a higher risk of contracting a particular disease or if you have already come down with it even if you are not showing the signs yet. For example, women have to get regular pap smear tests to know if cervical cancer has set in.
Monitoring the illness
Suppose you have already been diagnosed with an illness and are under treatment. You would have to get these tests done, so that your doctor knows whether your condition is improving or not. People with diabetes check their blood sugar levels just to ensure that their sugar level has not escalated.
Preventive health check-up
These are routine tests that people undergo even if they are not sick just to make sure that they are indeed healthy.
For example, a comprehensive blood test will check sugar, cholesterol and many other substances in your blood to expose if there is any health risk.
Lab test results and what they mean
The findings of lab tests are expressed in the test report. Some lab test results are simply a number. To understand the number, we will explain a context. Some health indicators such as haemoglobin or platelet count, blood cholesterol level etc. have a reference range. For example, your blood sugar result is a number like 82 mg/dL. This number falls in the the normal blood sugar range (70-100 mg/dL). Anything below the lower number of the range will be construed as low blood sugar and if the number is above the upper limit, it means you have high blood sugar.
Positive and negative lab test results, and what they mean
Your test result may also say ‘negative’ or ‘positive’.
A negative result is also called a normal result. It means that the particular illness that you were screened for does not exist in your body. You are healthy.
A positive result, on the other hand, means the opposite. It means that the test you undertook found traces of illness in your system.
Some results might turn up ‘uncertain’ or ‘inconclusive’ which means the test could not definitively state whether a disease is present or not.
A false-positive or a false-negative result
Not always are lab test results correct. Suppose your report says ‘positive’ indicating you have an illness. But you actually don’t. This is a false-positive result.
Similarly, if you are ill but the report says you are not, then that is a false negative result.
These errors are rare. And mostly your doctor will recommend follow-up tests, just to be sure.
Mostly, common people are unaware of how to understand lab test reports. But once you learn the terminology, it is very easy to interpret lab test results and what they mean.