What does a Complete Blood Count (CBC/diff) with a differential tell about my overall health?

If you visit your physician regularly, you probably have had this blood test at your annual check-up.  Your doctor may tell you your blood work is normal, but what does that really mean and why do they have to check it all the time if it’s always normal?

The CBC consists of a white blood count, which is broken into components.

The components are lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes, basophils, and eosinophils. Then comes the red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, mean corpuscular volume (MCV), mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH), and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC).  Lastly, there is a platelet count.

The CBC is a very important test, and should be done regularly.  It is a key indicator of what’s going on in your body.  Let’s start with the white blood cells. 

They are your body’s army.  They are present to fight off invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and allergens.  When your body is attacked by something harmful, white blood cells increase and fight off the invader.  A high white blood cell count can indicate infection.  Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell.  They are further broken down into T cells and B cells.  B-cells make antibodies to attack their enemies. T cells attack cells that have already been harmed by viruses or cancer.  Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cell. Their job is to destroy harmful bacteria.  Monocytes can be broken down into macrophages (which “eat” the invader), or dendritic cells. Eosinophils and basophils are also part of the white blood count, but in a much smaller number.  They also help to fight off parasites.  Interestingly, when their numbers get too high, they can contribute to allergies in the body. 

As we said earlier, a high white blood cell count usually means there is an infection somewhere in the body.  Other possible reasons for a high white count could be medication, inflammation (ex: active arthritis), allergic reactions, blood/ bone marrow disease (leukemia), or severe tissue damage.  A low white blood cell count is of equal importance, and can sometimes be related to HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disorders, leukemia or other bone marrow disorders, chemotherapy, or some spleen disorders. 

Red blood cells carry oxygen to your cells and remove carbon dioxide to the lungs where it is eliminated when you exhale.  Your hemoglobin is an iron-containing protein that is responsible for moving the oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues.  The hematocrit is the percentage of whole blood that contains red blood cells. The MCV is the average amount of space occupied by each red blood cell.  MCH is an estimate of the amount of hemoglobin carried by each red blood cell, and MCHC is an estimate of the level of hemoglobin in a given number of red blood cells. 

If your red blood cell numbers are normal, that’s great.  There are many reasons for high red blood cell counts, such as dehydration, kidney disease, bone marrow disorders, medications, heart, or lung disease.  A low red blood cell count indicates anemia.  There can be many reasons for anemia, and your doctor can help you find it. 

Platelets are the component in our blood that stops bleeding.  The platelet cells come together and form a clot where we need it.  They also act as transport for other blood components.  A low platelet count means we might not clot as well as we should if we get a cut or internal injury.  We may even take certain medications that decrease our platelet counts.  We may see a high platelet count if we have an autoimmune disease or certain cancers, among other things.

I’m sure you can see why the Complete Blood Count is so important.  Having this test is a great way to take control of your health. It should be on your list of regular testing, even when it has been normal all along.  If there’s a problem, your doctor will advise you as to the next steps.

It’s Your Health.  Take Control! 

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June is Men's Health Month

Listen up, guys. It's Men's Health Month, the time to man up and take care of your health.

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Eat Healthy. Start by taking small steps like saying no to super-sizing and yes to a healthy breakfast. Eat many different types of foods to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. Add at least one fruit and vegetable to every meal.

Get Moving. Play with your kids or grandkids. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do yard work. Play a sport. Keep comfortable walking shoes handy at work and in the car. Most importantly, choose activities that you enjoy to stay motivated.

Make Prevention a Priority. Many health conditions can be prevented or detected early with regular checkups from your healthcare provider. Regular screenings may include blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, prostate health and more.

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