Understanding Lab Values



The Importance of Understanding Lab Values

Why is understanding lab values an important skill for a caregiver? After all, the doctor reads the lab work and tracks what is going on with your family member.  Why not trust them to handle that part of the care alone?

Advantages of Knowing Lab Values

Understanding lab work is not your responsibility as a caregiver; however, knowing lab values has its advantages.

  1. By knowing lab values, you can predict what may happen next to take appropriate action.
  2. Doctors don’t always catch changes in values that are unique to individuals. Family members do. Bring significant changes in lab values to the doctor’s attention if they don’t notice. I have prevented serious medical problems that doctors overlooked twice by making those calls.
  3. When you know lab values have returned or remain at normal, it’s reassuring. Furthermore, if your family member is ill, seeing the lab values improve brings you hope and encouragement.
Monitoring Lab Values Unlocks the Mysteries of the Body 

I keep home test kits for monitoring kidney, liver, and overall metabolic functions. If I see symptoms that tell me something is not right, I collect a urine specimen and check to see if any values are out of range. I never accept one test because anything can impact a test one time; therefore, I collect another specimen as soon as I can practically do so. If it shows the same information, then I know I likely am seeing a problem developing. I either call the doctor to get a recommendation or start with our treatment protocols if I know what to do. By catching changes early, treatment can start before anything significant develops, and a cure can occur quickly.

Lab work unlocks the mysteries inside the body. We can’t see what’s happening underneath the skin. However, as a nurse, I’ve learned that what I can’t see from the outside, I can find out from the blood. As blood circulates throughout the body, it picks up enzymes, proteins, and other waste products discarded from the organs. By measuring those cast-offs, we can determine how well the organs are functioning.

When comparing the values from two organs together, you can often see the impact a “sick” organ has on an otherwise healthy organ. The strain placed on a “healthy organ” may cause it to use up more chemicals to complete whatever process it does for the body. At first, it over-produces the chemical to make up for the other organ. After a while, it begins to wear out and under-produces. If you know the normal lab values, you can follow the disease’s progress by the changes you see in the two organs’ chemical waste byproducts.

Follow these links to videos showing how to use home testing kits and to perform quality control testing.

How to Use a Lancet Device
How to Prick Finger Tips with a Lancet Device for Checking a Blood Sugar
How to Perform a Quality Control QC Test on a Glucometer 

Using Home Test Kits to Monitor Labs Values

Once you understand lab values, you’ll want to keep an eye on them yourself. One way to monitor lab values is to buy home monitoring test kits. Since you don’t have a lab at home to do blood tests, you are limited to testing urine or drops of blood on small chemical reagent strips. However, these are great screening tools.  Keep in mind these tests are not as sensitive as the ones done in a laboratory, and therefore, you may get false positives at times (i.e., the test might read as positive when it’s negative).  If you get a positive reading, always do a second test to confirm what you got and then notify your doctor.  Also, confirm your test kit has not expired.  If the chemicals you’re using are old, they might not react correctly.

Many Types of Kits Available

In today’s marketplace, many types of test kits are available for a variety of testing options. When I am suspicious that my husband might have a urinary tract infection, I use a test kit to check. By dipping a strip treated with special chemicals in urine, I can tell by the results if he has a possible infection. The results allow me to increase his fluid intake and take other actions to flush out his urinary system. Most of the time, I can clear up the problem without antibiotics. That’s a win/win for us.  Therefore, I recommend using testing kits at home as a monitoring practice.

MUST Follow Directions Closely

Most home test kits are easy to use; however, you must follow directions precisely to be effective. Don’t be tempted, for example, to use the strips after the expiration date.  The chemicals won’t give accurate results. Throw them away! Always write the date you open the box on the package immediately. Throw away the contents remaining based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Home Health Monitoring Helps You Act Quickly  

Home testing is a guideline that helps you to monitor your level of wellness and allows you to take corrective action quickly if needed.  However, its effectiveness is only as good as your willingness to follow the kit’s instructions correctly. Taking shortcuts only hurts you or your family member.

  • Keep the test strips and chemicals dry and in a dark place.
  • Write the date opened on the container and throw it away by the expiration day.
  • Time the test accurately
  • If you get an abnormal reading, do a second test, check to make sure that there is no other explanation for the abnormal result, and if not, notify the doctor of your findings.

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