Four Common Blood Tests Every Senior Should Have

blood test

At the end of a visit with your doctor, it’s not unusual to hear that you need a blood test. You are certainly not alone with this common request: according to the American Clinical Laboratory Association, there are over seven billion blood tests performed in the United States every year. While most laboratories can run several simple tests – including those in our list of tests you should definitely have – about 35,000 laboratories across the U.S. run complex or specialized tests.[1]

Understanding your blood test results is important. It can help you see why your doctor prescribes certain medications or wants you to change particular lifestyle habits. For instance, your doctor might look at your test results and tell you to get more calcium in your diet. They might note that you have anemia, which can lead to fatigue, which can lead to falls – therefore, the doctor can offer some solutions that can help. Knowing that bit of information about your medical situation could also prompt you to consider an affordable mobile medical alert system with fall detection to keep you safe at home and on the go.

As we get older, there are certain conditions that become more prevalent, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Therefore, you can expect to get your blood drawn at least once a year, during your annual physical. If you have ongoing medical concerns, you might be tested every quarter, or even every month. Here’s what you need to know about the 4 most common blood tests for elderly adults.

The Four Most Common Blood Tests for Seniors

When you go the laboratory, the phlebotomist (the person who draws your blood) might fill up several small tubes. What is each tube used for? There are four common “panels” that test your blood for certain things.

1.       Complete Blood Count (CBC)

This test can help your doctor diagnose health problems like anemia, infections, bone marrow problems, how well your blood is clotting, and much more. This blood count actually tests for a wide variety of things in your blood, including[2]:

·         White blood cell count (WBC). This number can go up if you are fighting an infection or taking certain medications.

·         Red blood cell count (RBC). This plays a part in helping doctors diagnose anemia. If this and the WBC are low, it could spell problems with bone marrow.

·         Hemoglobin. If this number is low, it’s because your cells aren’t receiving enough oxygen, and you might be quite fatigued[3].

·         Hematocrit. This blood test can reveal anemia, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, blood loss, dehydration, blood disorder, or certain heart and lung diseases, according to the Mayo Clinic.

·         Platelet count. This can reveal autoimmune disorders, anemia, cancer, bone marrow diseases, and can be affected by certain medications, such as those for cancer[4].


2.       The Basic Metabolic Panel

This test measures seven key electrolytes in your blood. These measurements can help your doctor adjust your diet, lifestyle, and medication recommendations to make you feel better. You might hear this test referred to as a “Chem-7.” It covers the following:

·         Sodium levels, which can fluctuate if you are on certain medications, including blood pressure medications.

·         Potassium, which can also change with the medications you are taking.

·         Carbon dioxide levels. These are sometimes referred to as “bicarbonate” because this is the chemical form of carbon dioxide found in the bloodstream. This helps your doctor track your kidney and lung function.

·         Blood urea nitrogen, or BUN, measures kidney function.

·         Creatinine also measures kidney function, which can be affected by certain medications or diseases. When combined with the glomerular filtration rate, this helps doctors understand how well your kidneys are filtering out waste.

·         Glucose levels point to issues with diabetes or low blood sugar.

·         Chloride. This can point to many problems, including dehydration, kidney disease, metabolic acidosis, heart failure, lung disease, and more.

3.       The Comprehensive Metabolic Panel

This panel takes a deeper dive into metabolic issues you might be facing. It covers an additional seven items and is sometimes referred to as the “Chem-14.” This includes the following:

·         Calcium is an important measure for seniors as it determines the intake of calcium and total calcium stores in the body. Levels that are too high or too low can cause cognitive issues.

·         Albumin is a protein in the blood that can point to a liver problem or malnutrition.

·         Liver enzyme counts can point to problems with the liver.

·         Bilirubin can be elevated due to gallstones or some issue that is blocking the bile ducts.

·         Alkaline phosphatase points to issues with the liver or problems with bone metabolism.

·         Total protein. This part of the test can determine if you have chronic inflammation, internal bleeding, liver disease, malnutrition, kidney problems, and much more[5].

4.       The Lipid Panel

This panel measures your cholesterol levels and other fats in the blood. In particular, it looks at four different numbers:

·         High-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the “good” cholesterol.

·         Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol.

·         Triglycerides, or the fat floating around in your blood.

·         Total cholesterol, which should be at 200 mg/dL or lower.

Cholesterol levels can determine your risk of cardiovascular disease. If the numbers are not in a normal range, your doctor might recommend lifestyle changes or medications.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults over the age of 20 have their cholesterol checked every four to six years[6]. However, your doctor might order this test every year, especially if you have had elevated counts and are working to bring your numbers into a normal range.

Other Common Blood Tests

As we get older, certain blood tests become more important. In addition to the four tests listed above, doctors might choose to order thyroid function tests, measurements of B12 levels, hemoglobin A1C to check your blood glucose levels, tests to determine how well your blood clots, and in-depth tests for heart function and iron levels.

All of these blood tests work together to provide an overall picture of your health. Some of them might be more important than others, depending upon your medical situation. For example, those who are suffering from severe fatigue might have lower B12 levels or low iron levels, both of which can contribute to anemia. The hemoglobin A1C measures the changes in blood sugar over time, so someone who has a good blood sugar reading with a basic finger-prick test might have an A1C that is higher than expected – this could be a more reliable indicator of diabetes.

It’s also important to remember that the blood test results can play a part in fall prevention. How does that work? Let’s say you have a lower level of B12 in your blood. This can lead to issues with cognitive function and mobility, which can lead to an increased risk of falls[7]. Knowing this information can help you make the decision to use an affordable medical alert device, particularly one with fall detection.

Calcium levels that are too low can lead you to choose calcium supplements and make dietary changes that bring more calcium into your diet. That’s also another good reason to invest in medical alert technology – lower calcium levels put you at greater risk of fractures. Falls can lead to serious injuries, so you would want to get help immediately. An emergency button alarm can help you do that.

No matter what blood tests you get, ask your doctor to give you a copy of them for your personal medical file. Also ask your doctor to explain all the results to you, especially those that fall outside of what the laboratory deems a normal range.

Having Your Blood Drawn

Some people are absolutely terrified of needles. In fact, there’s a name for it – trypanophobia – and it’s the overwhelming and extreme fear of any medical procedure that involves a needle. Some studies say that 10% of all adults suffer from it[8]. Even if you don’t have a phobia of needles, you might still find them quite unpleasant. In that case, a blood draw can induce some anxiety or nervousness.

Understanding how a blood draw works, as well as a few techniques to stay calm and make the procedure easier, can help lessen concerns.

A phlebotomist will clean the site where they intend to insert the needle. They will then usually place a tourniquet above the site of the blood draw, such as the upper arm. This will make sure they get the maximum amount of blood from one needle stick. The phlebotomist will gently push the needle into the vein. The needle is attached to a test tube. Blood flows from the vein into the test tube until the phlebotomist has enough blood for testing. They might need to fill more than one tube, depending upon how many tests your doctor ordered. The needle is removed, a little pressure and a bandage are applied to the site, and you’re good to go.

Still nervous about it? These tips can help.

·         Be honest. Tell your phlebotomist that you’re nervous. You might be at higher risk of fainting, so they need to know your concerns. This will allow them to position you carefully so that if you do faint, you don’t fall onto the floor.

·         Stay hydrated. Ask your doctor if it is okay to drink water before your test. If the answer is yes, drink a lot of it! The more hydrated you are, the plumper your veins will be, which makes them easier to find and get blood from. But be sure to ask your doctor if you can drink water beforehand, as some tests may not allow it.

·         Take steady breaths. Don’t hold your breath – this is often what leads to fainting from a blood draw. Breathe normally and evenly, focusing on pulling each breath in and letting it go. This can help relax you.

·         Keep your arms warm. Before you go into the laboratory for your blood draw, wear a jacket that will keep your arms warm. When you are in the room, the phlebotomist might place warmed towels or heated pads on your arm.

·         Don’t look. It might be tempting to look at the needle, but if you have any nervousness at all, do not watch the procedure. For some people, the sight of their blood is enough to make them queasy or faint.

·         Don’t hesitate to ask for someone else. If the person drawing your blood doesn’t hit the vein on the second try, it’s okay to ask for someone else. Another person might have more luck in finding a vein.

·         Request a smaller needle. A butterfly needle is smaller than the typical needle used for blood draws. It can hurt a bit less and can draw blood from smaller veins.

As you get older, you will likely face blood draws more and more often. If it’s something that makes you feel anxious or faint, that’s another good reason to consider using a medical alert pendant or wristband. A button alarm from Alert1 Medical Alert Systems can be a great safety net during those times when you’re not feeling well. Be ready with the peace of mind that if you begin to feel unwell or suffer a fall, you will have an emergency button alarm that can help you stay safe.

Alert1 wishes you health and wellness!