The Mystery Behind The Complete Blood Count

Did you complete your annual physical? You had your doctor’s exam, blood pressure checked, weight monitored and blood work completed. The mystery lies in the results of your lab test results. What does it all mean?

Your doctor has decided to draw a CBC. Abbreviations are used in health care environment too many times. Abbreviations, although very confusing to the non-medical person, the health care providers talk in abbreviation language. CBC, is also known as the complete blood count. It gives important information about the kinds and numbers of cells in the blood, especially the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A CBC helps your doctor check any symptoms, such as fatigue (tiredness), bruising, and weakness you may have. A CBC also helps the doctor diagnose anemia, infection, and many other conditions.

CBC usually includes:

WBC (White blood cell or leukocyte) count. White blood cells protect against infection. If an infection develops, white blood cells attack and destroy the bacteria, virus, or other organism causing the infection. White blood cells are bigger the red blood cells but fewer in number. When a person has a bacterial infection, the number of white blood cells increase quickly. The number of white blood cells is sometimes used to find an infection or to see how the body is dealing with cancer treatment.

WBC Differential (White blood cell types). The major types of white blood cells are neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. Immature neutrophils, call band neutrophils, area also part of this test. Each type of these cells play a different role in protecting the body. The numbers of each one of these important types of white blood cells provide important information about the immune system. Too may or too few of the different types of white blood cells can help find and infection, an allergic or toxic reaction to medications, chemicals or many conditions such as leukemia.

RBC (Red Blood Cell) count. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. They also carry carbon dioxide back to the lungs so it can be exhaled. If the RBC count is low (also called anemia), the body may not be getting the oxygen it needs If the count is to high ( a condition called polycythemia), there is a chance the red blood cells will clump together causing blockages in tiny blood vessels (tiny vessels called capillaries). This also will make it hard for your red blood cells to carry oxygen.

HCT (Hematocrit or packed cell volume-PCV). This test measures the amount of space (volume) red blood cells take up in the blood. The value is given in percentage of blood cells in a volume of blood. Example: 38 means that 38% of the blood’s volume is made of red blood cells. Hematocrit and hemoglobin values are the two major tests that show if anemia or polycythemia is present.

HGB (Hemoglobin). The hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen and gives the blood cells its red color. The hemoglobin test measures the amount of hemoglobin in blood and is a good measure of the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Red Blood Cell Indices. There are three red blood cell indices: mean corpuscular volume (MCV), mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC). There measurements come from other measurements in a CBC. The MCV shows size of the red blood cells. The MCH value is the amount of hemoglobin in an average red blood cell. The MCHC measures the concentration of hemoglobin in an average red blood cell. These numbers help in the diagnosis of different types of anemia.

Platelet (also called thrombocytes). These cells are the smallest type of blood cell. They are important in blood clotting. When bleeding occurs, the platelets swell, clump together, and forma sticky plug that helps stop bleeding. If there are too few platelets, uncontrolled bleeding may be a problem. If there are too many platelets, there is a possibility of a blood clot forming in a blood vessel. Also, platelets may be involved in hardening of the arteries.

MPV (mean platelet volume). Mean platelet volume measures the average amount (volume) of platelets. Mean platelet volume is used along with platelet count to diagnose some disease. If the platelet count is normal, the mean platelet volume can still be too high or too low.

It is important to understand why your physician has ordered a CBC as well as what the results tell you. There are many reasons why a CBC is helpful. It can assist in the diagnosis of many diseases such as: infections, inflammation, cancer, leukemia, auto immune disorders, bone marrow failure, anemia, dehydration, and fluid loss. The CBC can show the effects of certain antibiotics, and or the effects of a number of medication in long-term or even short term use.

The mystery of the CBC can lead to negligence if the results go ignored, un-treated, or the results are from a mismarked blood specimen. In the fast pace of health care, accidents happen every day and you maybe that mishap. It is important to understand the Complete Blood Count, why it is done, the results, and treatments based from the results so you are not the next medical mystery.