Lab Tests—Could Your Doctor Be Missing Something?
Have you ever received a letter or a note from your doctor about your lab results that simply says, “Everything is normal?” Unfortunately, for many people, their doctor will tell them everything looks normal, although they feel utterly terrible.
Getting regular lab testing done is an important part of every person’s health journey. It gives your physician valuable insight into what may be going on within your body. And it helps them track whether or not treatments are working.
Whether you are just starting out or are maintaining a state of great health, regular lab testing is a necessity.
But why would your doctor tell you everything is normal? Or maybe more pressing, how could you feel exhausted, be losing hair or experiencing any of your symptoms if everything is normal?
The answer may be that your doctor is not be interpreting your lab test results correctly. Here are the top 4 reasons doctors miss a diagnosis on labs.
4 Reasons Your Doctor May Miss Your Diagnosis
Lab values are based on a population of sick people
Let’s talk a bit about where lab values come from. Laboratories are often changing the normal ranges of a particular lab marker based on the average of a population.
Why might this be? Does human physiology change that drastically in 10 years that we need a new set of numbers for what is “normal?” Laboratory values for a particular marker are based on the average of a wide sampling of the human population, which often encompasses people who are sick or have a disease. This means “normal” includes the lab values of a sick population.
But what happens when a population gets sicker and sicker?
When more and more people in the population are diagnosed with major illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes? The values of labs, over time, get skewed and are no longer representative of what is optimal for human health. In addition, people with certain disorders such as PCOS or Hashimoto’s have unique changes to their physiology. Just following the conventional lab ranges for these patients may lead to disastrous results.
There is more than one way to interpret lab tests
The results of lab test can be looked at via a pathological lens or a functional lens.
Within the pathological lens, the physician wants to see if numbers fall outside of a certain, usually very wide, range in order to make a diagnosis of a disease. These numbers have nothing to do with how a person may be feeling or what optimum function may look like.
Medical training is important
Naturopathic physicians and functional medicine doctors have specialized training in understanding and interpreting lab results within a complex medicine lens. This is usually a much tighter range and these numbers are correlated to the patient’s symptoms and experience
Your doctor is missing patterns
Like everything in health and life, we are complex beings and more than just the sum of our parts. We are learning more and more how interconnected every part of our system is, and you CAN’T affect one part without affecting another.
Naturopathic physicians look for patterns among the lab values that, alone may not seem like much, but together may hint at specific conditions.
Looking at markers alone isn’t enough
For instance, when the blood marker BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen) is elevated it is commonly thought to be due to an issue with the kidneys as they are responsible for clearing excess urea. However, a slightly elevated BUN along with a low total protein could be due to low stomach acid.
Just looking at a single marker alone won’t provide enough information.
In this example, we can put the pieces together and work on lifestyle changes and supplementation to increase stomach acid. Looking at lab values as a whole along with a thorough history and physical exam is essential to finding the root cause. Only then can we begin to correct the underlying dysfunction.
Why Watch and Wait?
Conversely, conventional medicine will often wait and watch for many lab values to rise out of range, at which point you are diagnosed with a disease.
As a naturopathic doctor, I aim to prevent disease and to help you never receive a diagnosis that could have been prevented.
Your doctor isn’t running the right tests
In order to get a clear idea of what is going on in the body, you need to gather enough information. Commonly, physicians miss important information related to nutrient deficiencies. For instance, doctors will run a CBC which analyzes white and red blood cells to look for anemia or low immune functioning.
Unfortunately, if something is not right, we still don’t know why without additional lab testing. Is it due to low iron? Low B12? Low folate? Without looking, you can only guess.
Doctors trained in functional lab interpretation are trained to gather enough information to figure out the root of the problem.
Help is here
If you are one of the many people who have been told everything looks normal and you are left scratching your head as to why you still are not feeling well, naturopathic care can make a tremendous difference.
For my patients, I always request prior lab test results to bring more clarity to the situation and understand the early patterns of your symptom progression.
If you want to be sure your doctor is interpreting your lab test correctly ask them if they have training in functional laboratory assessment. If they don’t know what you are talking about, likely they have not and you may want to take your labs to a naturopathic physician.
It is my goal to help you feel your absolute best and one of the keys to reaching that goal is ordering the correct labs and interpreting it through the lens of your symptoms.