What's a CBC? and more

For many Americans fascinated by the proliferation of medical and emergency dramas, the staccato orders of "CBC and chem panel!" are mysterious language known only to the insiders who surround the patient.

Here's a brief translation list of common measurements in the tests used by real as well as TV doctors:

CBC—complete blood count

This basic blood screening test measures hemoglobin, hematocrit, white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

Hemoglobin is composed of iron and protein found in red blood cells. It carries oxygen to all the cells in the body. Low hemoglobin can indicate anemia, or iron deficiency, caused by vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.

Hematocrits measure red cell volume. Low results are another indication of anemia.

White blood cells are infection fighters. Elevated white blood counts may be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Trauma to the body or diseases may increase or decrease the white blood cell count.

Red blood cell count can indicate whether the body is producing enough red cells which transport oxygen to body cells. This count also is an indicator of anemia or blood loss through trauma.

Platelets are the clotting agents in the bloodstream. Cancer and other diseases can reduce platelets, causing the patient to bleed excessively internally or externally. Platelet transfusions can alleviate bleeding.

Chem panel—battery of blood chemistry tests

This group of tests determines the balance of diagnostically important and naturally occurring chemicals in the body:

Glucose measures sugar in the blood. High results can be an indicator of diabetes.

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