Published On: Sat, Mar 30th, 2013

Understanding What Exactly Is In My Blood and What It’s Telling Me

Blood TypeDeep down inside I still feel as indestructible as I did a decade or two ago. But as I approach 40, I’m slowly starting to accept that something could go wrong; hence, I’ve been going to the doctor every six months. In the past year, I’ve gone four times, once a redo on my blood test since I had blood drawn the day after week one of the football season. A day after consuming a lot of beverage that isn’t conducive for a healthy body.

I’ve been tracking my blood test results and doing a little research on what all those medical terms mean. Aspartate/SGOT (AST), Alanine/SGPT (ALT), Albumin, Amylase, Acetoacetate, Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Acid Phosphatase, Acid Phosphatase Prostatic, and that’s only the A’s.

With four separate doctor’s visits, I’m starting to see some trends, getting a better idea of what’s going on inside my body. Not at a level that I can talk to anyone about it, but enough of a clue that it’s becoming clearer what I need to look for as I approach my fourth decade next year.

Cardiovascular/Cholesterol

What has been a consistent concern has been my cholesterol. When I first went to the doctor about four years ago, it was over 240, then I didn’t go back until last year. In the past four visits, my cholesterol has been 193, 231, 188 then 224 the other day. The 231 was the day after consuming a lot of Southern Comfort. The same day my triglycerides were at 310, more than twice the ideal number you want to see.

I scheduled another visit a couple of weeks later to get a reading without the SoCo coursing through my veins. I also “fasted” from Mountain Dew for the week prior to the doctor’s visit. My cholesterol fell to 188 and my triglycerides fell in half to 149. Just two weeks later and a focus on less sugary drinks made a significant difference.

But at my last doctor’s visit, my cholesterol went back up to 224 with my triglycerides coming in at 171. I haven’t been drinking alcohol, but my Mountain Dew consumption, not as much as it was last year, but still consistent, has been regular. I need to stop drinking so much soda. In an effort to encourage myself, I just ordered a custom-print water bottle, nothing special, but something I can keep at my desk begging to be filled with water from the water cooler instead of walking over to Rite Aid where muscle memory makes me walk back to where the sodas are.

In the cardiovascular category, I’m learning about C Reactive Protein (CRP). A year ago it was 1.701 mg/L. You want it to be less than 10 mg/L. Last fall it was 15.67 mg/L. Hmmm.

C Reactive Protein (CRP): This is a marker for inflammation. Traditionally it has been used to assess inflammation in response to infection. However we use a highly sensitive C Reactive Protein which is useful in predicting vascular disease, heart attack or stroke. The best treatment for a high C reactive protein level has not yet been defined, however statin drugs, niacin, weight loss, quitting smoking, and exercise all appear to improve C Reactive Protein

So my cholesterol and triglycerides fell to almost normal while my CRP shot up 50% above the high mark. After a blood test it takes a couple of weeks of get some of the readings, CRP being one of them, so I’m curious to see what it was last week.

One of the things that my doctor said that helps is that since my cholesterol has been fluctuating, it’s a sign that it’s not hereditary. That means I can control it with a little better effort in eating healthier and exercising more.

Gotta Eat My Vitamins

VitaminsAnother refrain I hear when I go to the doctor is to get my vitamin D level up. My doctor explained that people of color have a tendency to have a deficiency in vitamin D. His suggestion was to get supplements, which I did. Now, I haven’t been as consistent in taking them as I should. There’s a bottle at the house and a bottle at my desk at work. When I see them, I take them. When I forget, I don’t even notice that I forget.

But then I saw my numbers. The target number is somewhere around 30 pg/mL. Mine has goen from 11 to 12 to 14. Very, very, very little improvement, but improvement nevertheless. Makes me wondering what happens when I take the supplements every day as the doctor ordered.

Another vitamin to keep an eye on is vitamin B9 also known as folic acid. I got a bottle of that, too, and the pregnancy jokes began. My folic acid went from 5.3 ng/mL to 8.3 ng/mL.

The rest of the nutrition stuff all looks good. I did give an attempt at eating cereal in the morning, but milk and I just don’t get a long. Even got lactose-free Silk, but no mercy on my septic system. Maybe I’ll give almond milk a try. Or find other foods with a lot of those nutritional values that mean virtually nothing to me like Phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, copper and so on.

One number though did catch my attention. In the four visits, I was only tested for it once, making me wonder why the doctor felt it necessary to test this once. Anyone know what ferritin is?

Ferritin is a globular protein that allows for storage of iron in a soluable and non-toxic form. It is often measured for suspected anemia and is usually in direct correlation with the total amount of iron stored in the body.

The range you want to be in is 20 to 250 ng/mL. That seems like a lot of latitude, but in my one reading, it was 385. Right now, I have no idea what that means or if it’s something that deserves any attention, but I’ll figure it out later.

Digestive

When looking at the digestive system, that’s where the words get a lot more unfamiliar. Most everything, though, looks good. In range, consistent, nothing the doctor has brought up.

But something happened during this last visit. Aspartate/SGOT (AST) and Alanine/SGPT (ALT) are two terms associated with liver and stomach enzymes. They may be elevated from liver problems, hepatitis, excess alcohol ingestion, muscle injury and recent heart attack. Nothing that I’ve experienced in the past six months. And hence, both fell dramatically. My AST stayed in the high 20s to low 30s. Last week it was 15.15. My ALT went as high as 38.29, but last week was 19.78. Prior to last week, both readings were on the high side, but not enough for the doctor to be worried.

Now I have started doing some exercising [albeit walking, but walking for miles at a time] and cut back on alcohol a lot, Mountain Dew a little and even started drinking water a bit more, using FitBit to track it. But could that be why these numbers fell so much?

I’m not too concerned about that, though. That’s a good thing. What happened, though, was my AST-to-Platelet Ratio (APRI) went from 0.3 which was already below what you want to 0.196. The target range is between 0.5 to 1.5. Something I need to be concerned about?

And my Amylase readings have been consistently on the low side. With a target range of 60 to 160 units/L, my last two readings were 39.2 and 58. It’s going up and I haven’t seen the value for last week, but another one of those things I’m not sure if I need to be concerned about.

Amylase is a digestive enzyme that helps digest starches, sugars, grains and carbohydrates. High carbohydrate diets can cause an enzyme imbalance which can result in an Amylase deficiency.

Everything else, as far as my non-medical eye can see, looks fine. My doctor told me my liver, kidneys and heart look fine. I got a heel test to check up on my bones and an EKG for my heart. He said nothing about the heel test so I’m assuming no news is good news; he said my EKG shows my heart is perfectly fine, my heart rate is low which is good and there are no skipped heartbeats, murmurs or anything else to be concerned about [other than how much it’s going to cost me].

My next doctor’s visit is in September. From now until then, I’ll read up more about these fancy words and what my blood test results mean. And I hope everyone else takes as close a look at their health as well.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.



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