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What Are Abnormal Lab Values?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Any time a person has laboratory work done, whether it involves blood tests, a urinalysis, or some other type of testing, the results of the testing are compared with results that are considered normal for the group that person falls into, usually determined by the person’s age and gender. The numbers used as a basis for comparison are the result of large numbers of tests done on healthy people over a period of years. If a person’s test results fall outside of the parameters of what is considered normal, the person is said to have abnormal lab values.

Because there is no one right answer for what a person’s tests should be, it is possible for an individual to have abnormal lab values and still be at an acceptable level. This determination is made by the person’s doctor and takes into account how far outside the normal range the lab values are, which results are in question, and the health status of the person being tested. Often testing can reveal abnormal lab values that are the first clue to hidden problems in a person who feels fine.

Sometimes, abnormal lab values indicate a need for further testing, such as when a person’s laboratory readings indicate a possible problem with the liver, heart, or kidneys. Other times, abnormal lab values are a clue that the person needs to make an important lifestyle change, such as when there are high cholesterol or triglyceride vales. Making changes to diet and exercise can help bring values that are outside of the normal range back into the range of what are considered acceptable numbers.

The specific laboratory tests used on a person generally depend on what the physician is looking for. Not all tests are ordered in all situations. Some of the more common tests, usually used as broad indicators of a person’s health, are tests for cholesterol, triglycerides, hemoglobin, platelet count, red blood cells, and white blood cells. Abnormal lab values in any of these areas can signify potentially serious problems and require further investigation.

In some cases, such as for people over a certain age, very specific tests are ordered to look for signs that might indicate cancer, thyroid problems, heart trouble, liver problems, or anemia. If abnormal lab values are found in any of these areas, a more thorough investigation is usually begun immediately, as poor lab test results can sometimes indicate the impending failure of an organ or the presence of cancer. X-rays and other imaging tests typically follow up indications of organ problems, with the ultimate hope of resolving any problems before they become too serious, thus restoring normal function to the body.

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