Laboratory Tests Tips

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What is a blood type and how is it determined?

All Humans are One of Four Blood Types: A, B, AB and O

Your blood type was determined by your parents, just like your eye color. Humans have only four blood types to choose from; A, B, AB, and O. These types are named for the kinds of protein that exist on the red blood cell's surface.

If you've ever had a blood transfusion, you know that your blood type is an important piece of knowledge. Some blood types are not compatible with one another, so the donated blood must be of the right type to mix with the transfusion recipient's blood. If the wrong blood types are mixed, clotting will occur, a dangerous situation that can cause death.

Called the "universal donor" because it can be transfused to all blood types, type O- blood donors are always in demand. Only 6 percent of the American population has this type of blood. People with type AB+ blood are called "universal recipients" because they can receive any of the other blood types. Only 4 percent of the American population has this blood type. The most common blood type is O+, with 37 percent of the population having this type.

If you don't know your blood type, your doctor can perform a simple laboratory test on a blood sample to determine it.

What can I do to make blood draws less painful for me?

Options Are Available to Make Difficult Blood Draws Easier

Typically, a blood draw for laboratory tests is simple and mostly free of pain. For some individuals, however, venipuncture can be difficult due to small veins. Veins that are scarred can also be difficult to puncture, often necessitating several needle sticks before the phlebotomist is successful.

Don't hesitate to share your experiences with the phlebotomist taking your blood sample. If you have had better success with certain puncture spots, techniques or needles, share that with the technician. Also, be sure to stay calm and work together with the phlebotomist even if you are flustered by several unsuccessful needle sticks.

Finally, the book Caregiving offers additional suggestions that are meant for cancer patients, but can be helpful for anyone with difficult veins.

Numbing Creams- Products are available to numb the skin, making unsuccessful punctures less painful.

Finger-Stick Tests- Many large medical centers offer these.

Catheters and Ports- These are sometimes available for those who need frequent blood draws for laboratory blood tests.

How do home-use tests compare to laboratory tests?

Home-Use Tests Can Provide Convenient, Private Health Information

Home-use tests are sometimes an alternative to laboratory tests. While they are not available to test for every condition, home-use tests are available to test for high cholesterol, glucose, pregnancy, ovulation, the onset of menopause and more.

Home-use test are fast, generally cheaper than laboratory tests and private. They allow you to monitor health issues that may not show symptoms, but would benefit from treatment, like high cholesterol. If your home-use test shows high cholesterol, visit your doctor immediately for further testing and possible treatment.

Home-use tests are also extremely helpful for women who are not sure if they are pregnant. Today's home pregnancy tests (HPT) are extremely accurate and fast. Rather than visiting the doctor every month for a test, women can find out in the privacy of their own home whether they have conceived or not.

These in-home tests also allow people to monitor a chronic condition, like diabetes. Some diabetics take blood sugar readings several times a day, so home-use tests are a necessity.

Keep in mind that home-use tests are meant to supplement regular visits to your doctor. They are great tools for providing you with information to maintain your health, but don't put off a visit to your physician. Especially if you are feeling sick or get a home-use test result that confuses you, your doctor's office is the place to turn.

How can I help my child who is scared of having blood drawn?

Tips For Helping Your Child Cope With Laboratory Tests

Having blood drawn for a laboratory test generally isn't much fun for anyone, but for children, it can be a frightening experience. Having an understanding parent or caregiver help them through the process is vital to a confused child. Following are some tips to help your child prepare for the laboratory test and to get through the blood draw itself.

Prepare - Tell your child how the blood will be drawn. Be honest and let your child know that it will hurt, but only for a minute. Sharing with the child that having blood drawn is hard even for grown-ups can make the procedure less intimidating.

Practice – Encourage the child to do a laboratory procedure on a favorite doll or stuffed animal, mentions Joy Goldberger, MS, CCLS, education coordinator for the child life department at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, Baltimore, Maryland.

Bribe – Offer to take your child out for ice cream afterward, or offer another reward they would enjoy.

Stay – Plan on staying with your child during the laboratory test. It's likely your mere presence will help calm the child. Also consider bringing a favorite book to read while the sample is being taken, or singing a song together.

What happens to my blood sample after its drawn?

How a Blood Sample Undergoes Laboratory Tests

If you've ever had blood drawn for a laboratory test, you probably haven't thought much about what happens to your blood after it leaves your vein. The technician takes the sample and about two weeks later, you get the results. But, how does the process work?

Below, we follow a sample of blood from your arm to the laboratory for testing and back.

Step 1 – A blood sample is taken from your arm and collected into a small tube.

Step 2 – After collection, the tube is labeled. The label will include your name
and what tests are to be run on the blood.

Step 3 – Your sample arrives at the laboratory and your information is put into their computer. The label tells the laboratory what tests to run, but the tube is also accompanied by paperwork with your doctor's information so the results can find their way back.

Step 4 – If the tests your doctor ordered require a component of the blood, like plasma or serum, the sample will be spun in a centrifuge to separate the components for testing.

Step 5 – A machine called a blood analyzer will run the specified tests on your sample.

Step 6 – The results are in. Some blood analyzers will process the results electronically so they can be emailed to your doctor, complete with graphics. In other cases, the results are simply printed and either mailed or faxed to the doctor.

What is a stool test used for?

Stool Test: Unpleasant But Necessary Laboratory Test

No one likes to think much about it, but stool, also called feces, is sometimes needed by a doctor to determine what is making you sick. Laboratory tests run on stool samples can reveal illness in the stomach, intestines or other area of the gastrointestinal system.

A stool test is generally used to look for certain conditions or infections.

* Inflammation in the body, sometimes caused by an allergy.
* The presence of bacteria, viruses or parasites that infect the gastrointestinal system.
* Digestive issues like the improper absorption of nutrients.
* Internal bleeding.

While the thought of needing a stool test isn't pleasant, many doctors allow you to collect the sample at home, minimizing embarrassment. If your doctor orders a stool test, be sure to ask for specific directions on proper collection, so you don't contaminate the sample. Contamination would necessitate doing the stool test a second time.

How do I know if the laboratory my doctor uses is high quality?

All Labs Are Not Equal: Quality Laboratory Services Vital to Your Care

You probably put a great deal of time, effort and thought into choosing your physician. Why wouldn't you put a similar amount of energy into identifying quality laboratory services? After all, the facility where your laboratory test is analyzed can be vitally important to your future.

Your doctor uses a certain laboratory or group of laboratories that produce medical test results. So, while you may not be able to choose the facility, you can learn enough about the lab to feel comfortable sending your samples to them.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor:

* Ask for the name and place where the laboratory is located.

* How did your doctor decide to use this laboratory? Are they a high quality laboratory service?

* Is the doctor confident that their medical test results are correct?

* Ask if your doctor has received incorrect test results from the lab. If so, how was the situation corrected?

* Does the laboratory have a system in place for handling complaints about incorrect test results?

* Ask if the laboratory is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO) or other nationally recognized organization. An accredited facility has met certain health and safety standards.

If you have a concern about an accredited office, you can contact the Joint Commission.

To report information or concerns about accredited organizations:

* Call or e-mail their Office of Quality Monitoring at (800) 994-6610 or

* You can also fill out a Quality Incident Report form at their Web site,

How do I stay calm when I have to have blood drawn?

Tips for Easing the Anxiety of Blood Draws

Having blood drawn for laboratory blood tests can be an anxiety-ridden experience for some people. If blood tests are a problem for you, check out the coping strategies below.

Visualization – The anticipation of the needle stick is usually worse than the actual stick. Try to minimize it in your head and think of it as a little poke or pinch, not something huge and painful. Consider listening to relaxation tapes before or even during your blood draw to help you stay calm.

Go with the flow – Stay hydrated before your test. Veins are found easily and blood flows better when you have plenty of water in your system. Consider walking around while you're waiting to get blood the flowing.

Dry Skin – Moisturize the puncture site well to minimize the pain of the needle stick.

Feel faint? – Always inform the phlebotomist if you feel faint. If this happens often during a blood draw, your blood can be taken while lying down.

Ask for help. – If the phlebotomist misses your vein twice, another technician might be called in to help. Plus, you always have the right to ask for another phlebotomist if you're flustered.

How do I prepare for my laboratory blood tests?

Prepare Adequately for Accurate Laboratory Tests

When you go to your doctor's office for laboratory blood tests, be sure you have prepared adequately for your test. To obtain a valid medical test result, you need to ensure that you've done your part to provide a good sample.

Before the day of the test, your doctor should provide you with instructions on how to prepare for your laboratory test. Whether you need to fast or avoid certain medications, deviating from the instructions can affect the test result. If you are not provided with instructions, ask if there are any. Be sure to follow them.

When you report for the test, inform your doctor if you did not follow the instructions. Tell your doctor or the person taking your sample what you did differently.

Alert your doctor to any medication you're taking or any foods you have eaten before the test.

Do not be embarrassed to tell your doctor the truth. He may go ahead with the test or he may reschedule, but at least you will know your results will be accurate.

What is a urinalysis used for?

Urinalysis Highly Common and Useful Laboratory Test

One of the most common laboratory tests ordered is the urinalysis. Doctors can learn a great deal about your health from a urine sample.

A urinalysis will look for several factors:

* Bacteria or other foreign organisms
* How many red and white blood cells are present.
* How concentrated the sample is.
* The pH, which determines how acidic or basic the urine is.
* The presence of substances the kidneys usually remove, like glucose.

If the laboratory test says that the urine does contain glucose or protein, it can indicate improper function of the kidneys or another type of infection. Highly concentrated urine can indicate dehydration.

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