Doctor’s Tip: Health Fair lab results

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor's Tip

There was a health fair at the Community Center in Glenwood last month, and Aspen Valley Hospital is sponsoring some in Aspen and Basalt early next month. This column offers some tips regarding health fair lab results, but is not meant to take the place of discussing any abnormal results with your primary care provider. If you don’t have a PCP, The People’s Clinic offers free consultations by appointment (970-379-5718). Ideally, you should fast for at least 6 hours (water’s okay) before having your blood drawn, because failure to do so can affect blood sugar and triglyceride results.

VITAL SIGNS: Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Normal BMI (body mass index) is 18.5 to 24.9 (plug your height and weight into a BMI calculator on the internet). Another important vital sign that isn’t done at most health fairs but should be, is waist circumference — taken at the point of maximum abdominal circumference — above the hips and belly button (not your belt size). Normal for women is < 35 inches and men < 40 inches, with lower cutoffs for Asians and East Indians.

CBC (COMPLETE BLOOD COUNT): Red blood cells carry oxygen, and hematocrit and hemoglobin are measures of your red blood count. Somewhat high values suggest sleep apnea — your body compensates for low oxygen at night by making more red blood cells. A low red blood count is anemia, which can have many causes, but blood loss is the most common. In a young woman, heavy periods can be the reason for blood loss, but in middle-aged and older women, and in men, blood loss from the GI tract (bleeding ulcer, colon polyps or cancer) need to be ruled out. The standard range for WBC (white blood count) is 4.5 to 11, although some experts say this should be changed to 3 to 9 — levels > 9 indicate infection or inflammation, and people on a plant-based diet often have WBCs as low as 3 because they have minimal to no inflammation. A WBC < 3.0 could indicate bone marrow suppression and needs to be investigated. Also included in the CBC is a platelet count — small blood cells that cause blood to clot when you want it to; borderline high or low values are of no concern, but significantly high or low values need to be investigated.

CMP (COMPREHENSIVE METABOLIC PANEL): Most labs report any blood sugar less than 100 as normal, although any level above around 92 indicates a problem with metabolism. Creatinine and GFR are measures of kidney function. If creatinine is high or GFR < 60, chronic kidney disease is present. BUN is also a measure of kidney function but can be high with dehydration associated with fasting. ALT and AST are liver tests; the most common cause of elevation these days is fatty liver, although other problems such as hepatitis and cancer need to be ruled out.

LIPIDS (CHOLESTEROL, HDL (“GOOD CHOLESTEROL”), LDL (“BAD CHOLESTEROL”), TRIGLYCERIDES: Guidelines recommend a total cholesterol of 200; HDL of 40 or greater in a male or post-menopausal female, 50 or greater in premenopausal female; LDL of < 100; triglycerides of < 150. However, heart attack-proof levels are total cholesterol of < 150; LDL < 50; triglycerides < 70; non-HDL cholesterol < 100.

URIC ACID: If elevated you have a higher risk of developing gout and/or uric acid kidney stones.

A1C: is a measure of your average blood sugar over the preceding 3 months. Normal is < 5.7, pre-diabetes is 5.7 to 6.4, and diabetes is 6.5 or greater.

PSA: is an imperfect but useful blood test for prostate cancer. Any level above 4.0 is worrisome, as is an increase of 1 point in a year (e.g. 2.0 last year and 3.0 this year).

TSH: The thyroid is a gland in your neck that regulates your metabolism; for optimal health the level of thyroid hormone should be within the normal range. TSH stands for thyroid stimulating hormone, secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain. A low TSH indicates hyperthyroidism; a high level indicates hypothyroidism.

VITAMIN D: Many people are low in vitamin D, and most authorities recommend that people of all ages take a supplement — the dose for adults is 2,000 units of D3 daily. If you are doing this, it’s not worth spending the money on a test.

STOOL TEST FOR COLON CANCER: If offered, be sure to get this test; if not offered, talk to your PCP about screening.

Dr. Feinsinger is a retired family physician with special interest in disease prevention and reversal through nutrition. Free services through Center For Prevention and The People’s Clinic include: one-hour consultations, shop-with-a-doc at Carbondale City Market and cooking classes. Call 970-379-5718 for appointment or email

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