There are many times in life, whether due to a routine check-up or the further exploration of a potentially difficult health situation that you will be given a set of medical lab test results. Although the lab results aren’t often more than one or two pages long, they can be incredibly complicated, packed with unfamiliar words and values you cannot understand. Yet you need to know what you are looking at, especially since your health is on the line. You might be able to get your doctor to explain the results to you, but then you’ll bring it home to your family and have to explain it to them. There will always be variables, but here is a description of some of the basic information you’ll find notated, to help you read and understand your medical lab test results.

The first set of information you’ll find at the top of each and every medical lab report is the mandatory clerical data. This section always follows a certain structure as laid out by the federal government, and shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. Here you’ll find your name, along with an identification number. You’ll also see the date the results were noted, and the name and address of the particular laboratory that handled the testing.

After getting through the basic clerical information, you’ll find a series of headings. These will explain the general nature of each test, and since you experienced them nothing here should be a surprise. Some of the headings you’ll frequently find are Chemistry, which looks at the chemical makeup of tissue or blood samples, Urinalysis, which explores the components of a urine sample, Endocrinology, or the study of your body’s hormonal composition and Immunology, which looks at your immune system. You’ll usually find these headings at the top of separate columns, and often on different pages.

Underneath these headings, you’ll see a description of the source of each specimen, the time and date at which it was collected, the specific name of the test and its results. The test names are often complicated and can be abbreviated on the result paperwork. Look it up online if you are unclear. But as far as the results go, it is often a series of numbers or an indication of a positive or negative result. Number results make it more difficult to understand, but each one that falls outside of the normal, expected range will be paired with either a “H”, meaning it is elevated or an “L” meaning it is lower than normal. If any of the test results show a dangerously abnormal result, your physician will certainly point this out to you in advance. If you do notice any abnormal numbers that have not been explained to you, contact your doctor for more information.

When a result comes back as abnormal, on top of the L or H you can find located next to it you may also find what is called a flag. That is any sort of additional letter used to designate a result that requires further discussion. You could see a “C”, which could stand for either Comment or Critical, or a D, which stands for Delta, noting a value that shifted hugely since a previous test. Regardless of the letter you see, do not panic. At the bottom of the report there should be a key that tells you what those flags mean. If you do not see anything like that included, contact Emeryville pharmaceutical services or your local healthcare provider to see if someone can outline the possibilities. If there is no flag in a column, you can rest assured that test result is well within the range of normal.