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What does a CBC mean? No, it’s not the TV station where Big Bang Theory is on tonight. Thats CBS. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it is about a group of physicists who can make even the periodic table hilarious! I’d love to make an explanation of medical abbreviations as interesting as the writers at CBS do psychics, but instead I’ll do my best to explain simple medical tests and then we can go from there.
How often have you seen a doctor and wondered what the medical jargon that she tosses in throughout the visit really means? I feel many times medical personnel simply forget non-medical people just haven’t a clue what they are talking about! I am often asked questions about what did a certain procedure or test means. So let’s start with CBC:
A CBC stands for “Complete Blood Count”. This test is probably the most common and used of all blood tests. It’s usually the first considered when trying to diagnosis a patient. A CBC helps to evaluate your overall health and gives the doctor a road map in order to know which way treatment should go.
A routine CBC, complete blood count, includes important information about different kinds of cells and numbers of these cells in your blood stream. The different kinds of cells and numbers your doctor is looking at are: white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), the hemoglobin (Hgb), the hematocrit (HCT), packed cell volume (PCV), platelet count, and mean platelet volume (MPV). Ok, so what do those mean?
Let’s briefly break each one down: I will use the abbreviations that you will see on your blood work because the complete name is never typed out.
WBC (white blood cells)- White blood cells circulate our body in order to protect us against infection. I like to call these cells part of the immune system. If we get sick with an infection, the white cells rise up to go to battle for us. They attack and destroy the virus, bacteria or other pathogen(s) which have came to invade us. White cells are fewer in number than the red cells but are larger cells. If you have an infection somewhere in your body, your white cells are going to quickly rise and increase. This causes a rise in the number of WBC’s on your report, and this is how your doctor can tell if there is something going on with infection.
*If your doctor ordered a CBC with Differential, that means that he or she needs to dissect the WBC in order to see what may be going on with the major cells that are a part of the white cells. These cells are named neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. All are part of the white cells. For example, eosinophils are a type of white cells. If for some reason they are found to be high, your doctor may ask you if you have allergies or may question you about having parasites. Each type of cell can give the doctor a clue to the puzzle.
RBC (red blood cells)- Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. These cells carry oxygen to the brain, our organs, everywhere. Red blood cells also pick up carbon dioxide and carry it to the lungs so the carbon dioxide can be exhaled. If you go to your doctor looking really pale, the first thing the doctor will be looking for is the RBC. Is it low? When a patient has anemia, their RBC’s can be low which means the body may not be getting enough oxygen. On the opposite end of this, if a patient has a condition called polycythemia, their RBC’s may be considered high. That means that the red blood cells will clump together and block up the tiny capillaries. When this happens, its hard for the RBC’s to carry oxygen through the body like they should.
Hgb (hemoglobin)- Within the red blood cells are the hemoglobin molecules. The hgb molecules are what gives our blood the red color. The Hgb test helps to measure the amount of hgb molecules in the blood helping the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. If you go to your doctor saying “I have been so unusually tired lately and seem to just not have any energy”, the first thing the doctor will be looking for is the Hgb. Is it low? Sometimes if the Hgb gets to low then the patient may need a blood transfusion.
Platelets (also named thrombocyte). Platelets are the smallest types of blood cells we have. These type cells are very important in our blood clotting ability. When we cut ourselves, our platelets swell and clump up to form a sticky fibrin coating in order to stop the bleeding. If our platelets become too high, there could be a danger of blood clots forming. If our platelets become too low, there is a danger in bleeding that is hard to stop. Sometimes when cancer patients have had a lot of chemotherapy, their platelets get too low and they have to receive a transfusion of platelets.
MPV (mean platelet volume). Volume is the key word here. The MPV measures the uniformity and volume or amount of platelets in the blood stream. MPV is used to diagnosis certain diseases such as Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome or vasculitis.
I hope I have been able to help make many of the abbreviations seen on blood work a little easier to understand. Please don’t forget to always ask for your records the day your doctor’s visit so you will have a copy!