Yesterday, in the gym, a friendly gym instructor couldnt resist asking me, “Is everything alright, Mam?”.
“You look healthy and fit, what happened?”.
“Oh, this…”, I inquired, “yeah..I got my blood test done”, realizing he is referring to the white dot (the blood draw bandage) on my elbow crease. “Thats why I ask!”, he repeated, still concerned. Which made me realize that he’s probably in the category of folks who think a blood test is not something you would do unless you are sick or suffering from some mysterious illness. And based on what I found out, there are many more who think that way.
In fact, I recently did a survey on Facebook to find out about how many people get a regular blood test done?
Well, a good 76% of my friends do it. (Good stuff, folks! Just means I have sensible, health-conscious friends :))
But for the remaining 24%, here are my 2 cents:
When it comes to health, ignorance is not bliss….it can be deadly.
If this sounds like paranoia, just remember what Andy Grove said: Only the paranoids survive!
Tell me, is it just me being overtly inclined towards grave news, or is your grapevine also abuzz with news about seemingly normal and fit folks dropping dead or catching chronic ailments at early ages?! (And no, I’m not even talking about the Sridevi episode).
Being in great physical shape is not necessarily an indicator of one’s health.
The truth is…We live in precarious life”styles”.
At work, we are stressed out. Enroute to work, we are smogged out. And to escape it all, we socialize…invariably involving shots and samosas! Add to that, the toxins we ingest in the name of food these days!
No wonder, India is the world capital for all popular lifestyle diseases (namely diabetes and coronary heart diseases, but even cancers). And the tricky part is, unlike infectious diseases, these don’t manifest obvious symptoms for years.
So, there you go! This is why I do annual blood tests. And you should too! Regular blood work is your first line of defense towards these deadly chronic lifestyle diseases. A baseline to see where you stand and a roadmap for you to navigate through future health risks.
If you don’t measure it, how can you manage it?
Of course, your blood test report looks all latin and greek when you first see it. After a good amount of talking to my doctor/nutritionist friends, and researching through pubmed articles, here’s my attempt at a dummies guide to the most important tests and what they mean, very broadly speaking. (But if you are smart, you’d let your primary care physician aka family doctor decipher them for you-making sure they have a complete record of your family history.)
The Blueprint – Complete Blood Count: CBC tells you what your blood is made up of: how many red (oxygen-carrying) blood cells, white (infection-fighting) blood cells, platelets (clotting particles), etc. Too many or too few of these indicate you have a problem…like anemia, infections, certain types of cancer, and so on. The hemoglobin count is especially important as it is usually indicative of iron-deficiency anemia, a common condition with Indian women. Note: And no, pumping iron does not increase the iron levels in the body (This one, tried and tested. :()
Ah, The sweet
taste test of blood: The blood sugar test measures your sugar level typically after a 12 hour fast. A higher than normal rating typically means your body is unable to handle the carbohydrates in your diet.This is usually combined with the HbA1C test. It is an assessment of your glucose levels over the past 60–90 days and indicates your risk of being a pre-diabetic or diabetic.
How good, bad and ugly is your Cholesterol?: Its not so much about the total cholesterol, as it is about the good, bad and ugly cholesterol in your blood. The complete lipid profile measures the HDL (aka good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides (the “ugly” fat cells in our blood). All these, including your blood pressure level should be in optimal range if you are looking to avoid clogging of your arteries (aka heart diseases).
Vitamin D Test: Despite being in the land of sunshine, our suburban lifestyles lend us short of this sunshine vitamin. All sorts of strange ailments (cancer, heart disease, fractures and falls, autoimmune diseases, type-2 diabetes, and depression) are linked to vit-D deficiency. The only way you can track it accurately is via the 25(OH)D test.
Vitamin B12 Test: If you feel fatigued all the time, chances are you are one of the 4 out of the 5 Indians, suffering from vitamin B12 deficiency. Yes, we are particularly prone to this deficiency because of our Indian vegetarian diet. Again, only a blood test can tell you where you stand wrt this.
Thyroid panel: Thyroid seems to be the silent epidemic of our times. A sluggish thyroid can slow down your systems and lead to unexpected weight gain and hairfall (two most dreaded symptoms, if you are a woman!) . Though thyroid disorder is said to run in families, it is triggered due to toxins in our air, water and food. Thyroid condition is tricky to diagnose and can only be detected by a blood test.
Kidney and Liver function Tests: To check for any damage to these vital organs. These tests can help detect ailments like fatty liver, kidney stones, etc.
These are the most essential tests but a more comprehensive blood work could also include C-Reactive Protein test for tracking inflammation, Estradiol test for osteoporosis risk, testing for iron deficiency, and testosterone levels.
Clearly, your blood has all the answers (well, the questions too).
And the way I look at it – Your periodic blood test can either reassure you that you’ve been on the right (health) track. Or it can empower you to make changes to get back on the right track.
I realize when there are thousands things trying to compete for your time, I’m asking you to add one more. (And yes, the long lines at the labs are not particularly inviting, unless of course thats your only time to watch Prime Video on your high-speed data plan!)
Well then, how about getting it done with just a few taps and a prick?! I recently discovered these time-saving diagnostic mobile apps…Thyrocare, DoctorC, and Dr. Lal Pathlabs in particular. These folks collect blood sample from your home and deliver the test results in your inbox!
Ever since, I have found no excuse to miss out on this annual appraisal of my health.
Hoping to see you flaunting your white dot soon!
Somethings are better left as unknowns!
For the rest, there exists an answer.
ps. Besides the blood test, some physical examinations, particularly the breast exam, cervical cancer screen (pap smear and HPV), bone mineral density test for women and colorectal cancer screen for men, are also essential after forty. But these are based on your predisposition towards these ailments and specific advice from your doctor.
ps2. For folks who need-to-know-it-all, here’s a complete guide to blood test reporting.