Blood tests can detect many different conditions in the human body and are used extensively and frequently in health care. After the blood is collected and stored properly, it is sent to a laboratory to be processed for the specific test the doctor ordered. The most common blood work ordered is the complete blood count (CBC), which can detect conditions such as anemia (low iron count), infections, clotting problems, and other disorders. The CBC looks at the counts of red blood cells (RBC), which reflect oxygen-carrying capacity; white blood cells (WBC), which fight infection; platelets, which detect clotting issues; hemoglobin, which detects iron content; as well as hematocrit, which detects how much space the RBCs take up; and mean corpuscle volume, which detects the size of the RBCs.
Metabolic tests are also commonly ordered to detect the chemicals in the blood that indicate the health of the muscles, including the heart and other vital organs such as the kidneys and liver. The basic metabolic panel measures blood glucose (sugar), calcium, and electrolytes to help doctors determine the health and function of the body as a whole. Other common blood tests to detect heart conditions and health are called lipoprotein panels. A lipoprotein panel provides information about total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), and triglycerides. These specific tests are important to understand and manage, especially as one ages, to ensure heart health. Although there are many more blood tests that a physician may order, these are the ones most commonly seen in health care. Blood tests provide valuable information for the general doctor to consider and a ground for referral to specialists if abnormalities are found. A hematologist is a doctor who deals with disorders of the blood. Depending on the condition found, other specialists may get involved as well.
As competition to be the best in sport increases, athletes and others are more susceptible to the lure of using drugs to enhance their performance. Drug testing is used widely by many athletic organizations, including but not limited to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Olympic Committee, and the NFL, who have listed specific banned substances (www.ncaa.org/2017-18-ncaa-banned-drugs-list). Drug testing also used in the workplace of many health care facilities. It typically involves a urine test. Commonly tested drugs include steroids, stimulants, depressants, and marijuana.
As a member of the health care team, it is important to work collaboratively with the physicians to understand the potential tests that will be prescribed. The algorithm in figure 29.5 presents the basic flow of screening tests that are typically performed in sports medicine. Although these tests are commonly used, far more specific tests will be prescribed based on the preliminary findings of the more familiar tests. Understanding the type of test and the reason it is being prescribed helps ATs communicate with the physician and patient more effectively.