5 reasons to get a general health blood test
Reviewed by Dr Bhavini Shah
General blood tests are used to assess general health. To get a picture of overall health, a small sample of blood is taken and sent to a laboratory for analysis. During the analysis, several biomarkers are looked at to help us understand what’s going on in the body. In this article, we’ll explore some of the things that are often picked up through a general at-home blood test.
What are biomarkers?
Biomarkers are medical signs which can indicate anything abnormal. Some of the biomarkers usually looked at as part of a general health blood test include:
- Cholesterol (lipid profile)
- HbA1c (diabetes risk)
- Liver profile
- Vitamin D
- Thyroid function
Reasons to get a general health blood test
If your blood test shows something abnormal, it gives doctors information on how they should treat you if you are feeling unwell, and how to prevent future problems. Sometimes, depending on your results, you may be asked to go for a follow up test.
The following information provides an overview of why it can be a good idea to get a general health blood test.
You’ll get a better understanding of your cholesterol levels
Cholesterol is a type of fat made in the liver and found in our blood. When we have too much cholesterol, it can be a problem as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. This is because too much cholesterol narrows blood vessels and restricts blood flow. You may not know if you have high cholesterol as it often doesn’t have any symptoms. A blood test will check your levels.
If you have high cholesterol, it’s important to make healthy lifestyle changes to bring your levels down. Managing cholesterol is important to long-term health, so get it checked if you’re worried.
You’re more likely to have high cholesterol if you smoke, are overweight, and don’t get much exercise. Getting older, being male, or from a south Asian background also increases the risk.
A blood test helps you understand your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
A general health blood test will look at your HbA1c levels (glycated haemoglobin). A HbA1c test measures the amount of sugar in your blood. If outside the normal range, you may have diabetes or be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes risk factors include:
- If you’re white and over 40 or over 25 if you are African-Carribean, Black African, Chinese or South Asian
- If you have a relative with type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- A high waist measurement
- Overweight or obese
- Male (it’s a little more common in men than in women)
A blood test checks liver function and insight into long-term health
Some of the liver’s functions include processing digested food from the intestine, fighting infections and getting rid of waste. By measuring liver enzymes and proteins we can measure how well your liver is functioning and help diagnose certain liver conditions.
The health of your liver can be impacted by several things, including:
- Infections, such as hepatitis
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Genetic conditions
- Being overweight or obese
- Problems with the immune system
In the early stages, most types of liver disease do not have any symptoms. A liver blood test can indicate early signs of liver disease and inform treatment.
You’ll get checked for vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D is important for healthy teeth, bones and muscles. It’s also important in maintaining good energy levels and reducing the risk of depression and low moods. Low vitamin D can cause bone pain and tiredness. In severe deficiencies, it can also cause intense pain, and weakness in the muscles (osteomalacia).
A general health blood test will pick up a vitamin D deficiency. Often, the recommended treatment will be a vitamin D supplement.
You are more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency if:
- You are indoors a lot
- You are pregnant or breastfeeding
- You are over 65
- Your skin is covered a lot (for example, for cultural reasons)
- You have dark skin
Your thyroid function will be tested
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck, just in front of your windpipe. It produces the hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (tetraiodothyronine) which affect metabolism and growth. It also produces calcitonin, responsible for regulating calcium levels.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is when the gland produces too much of the thyroid hormones, and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is when it does not produce enough.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
- Anxiety and irritability
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Weight loss
- Mood swings
- A goitre (swelling in the neck)
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:
- Weight gain
- Loss of sex drive
- Slow movement
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Heavy or irregular periods
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- A fast heart rate
A thyroid blood test checks thyroid function by checking the hormone levels. If you have either an underactive or overactive thyroid, you will need regular checks, as well as treatment, such as a daily hormone replacement, or a medicine to stop the overproduction of hormones.
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