Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blood Counts and Levels: Part 1

Knowing important information stored in
your blood can help you be a better
 partner in your own care.

It’s something extremely important to our survival yet we rarely see it and certainly hope not to... our blood.  Depending upon what medical condition you are managing as a patient or caregiver, it’s important to find out just what the doctor is looking for when drawing all those vials of precious fluid from your veins!

Why should you? Aren’t "they" keeping track of it all?

I’m big on empowering patients and caregivers with information. They spend more time in the front lines of their own care than a doctor ever can. An educated patient and caregiver are a vital link in successful medical care. 

As people age, they are more likely to have issues with blood thinning or thickening. For people with DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis; Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib); Pulmonary Embolism; mechanical heart valves, and other medical issues, it’s extremely important to monitor PT/INR levels. In layman’s terms, that’s the thickness of the blood related to its ability to clot. If it’s too high, the blood is too thin and there are higher risks for bleeding. If it’s too low, the blood is too thick and clotting can happen when it’s not supposed to. Monitoring these levels and treating with what many call “Coumadin Therapy” reduces the chance of strokes and heart attacks. Coumadin is the usual drug given to thin the blood. The generic is called Warfarin. Various amounts are given determined by the monitoring of the blood levels. When a doctor wants the PT/INR levels monitored, it’s VERY important to follow through. By doing so, you reduce the chance major health crises.

Another important time to know what’s happening in your blood is when receiving chemotherapy. Blood is drawn quite often during cancer treatment. You should know why. If your white cell count drops, you’re at higher risk for infection. Your doctor or nurse should tell you when to stay away from crowds, the grocery store, or sadly the grandbabies, but if you monitor your own white count, you can ask if it’s low enough that you need to be more cautious in other circumstances the doctor may not consider.  Let’s face it - how likely is it for the doctor to ask if you’ve bought tickets to a play at the theatre and that may not cross your mind as a place as germ filled as a grocery store. You might not even remember it right away, but telling the doctor of any 'unusual' (nondaily) plans will help him/her plan your care. And yes, people having chemotherapy do such things when they feel up to it! But remember, though you may feel able to go out to a play, your blood may not be ready. And it can’t tell you.

White blood cell counts aren’t the only things that doctors look for, so when you have your blood drawn, ask for details. It empowers you to be a partner in your own care.
Golden Nuggets for Caregivers:  Ask for a printed report of blood tests. Make notes about what are the big things to look for and ask what all those numbers and letters mean. Believe me, a report generally looks like an advanced level algebra problem with numbers and letters all over the place, so ask for explanation. Put copies of the reports in your caregiver’s notebook. If your doctor’s office won’t give you copies or explain them to you - it just may be time to find another doctor’s office. Now, if it’s the lab staff who won’t provide it, don’t leave your favorite doc - just let him or her know what you want and address the issue through the office management.

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