A woman anxiously studying medical records and results

You Can't Study for a Blood Test

Did you ever open an envelope, read its contents, and felt devastated? I was a college junior in 1976 when I received notice that I had not been accepted into the Education College at my university. My friend saw the disappointment on my face. "Why?" she asked. "Your grades have been excellent, and your test scores were good."

Failing a health exam

"I didn't pass the health screening," I answered.

"Was that when your arm swelled up from the T.B. Skin Test?" she asked.

"Yes, my tuberculosis reading was positive. I don't have T.B.!" I cried.

"Well, you never saw that coming! You couldn't study for a T.B. screening," my friend said, trying to cheer me up.

Fortunately, I was able to become a teacher after an x-ray confirmed that I did not have tuberculosis.

Blood tests every month

More than forty years later, I am still taking tests for which I can't study. I was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) in 2017. These days, I have complete blood counts (CBC) monthly. I check my blood counts the same way I studied my students' reading scores. But, first, I had to determine what some words meant and why they were flagged.

Studying about the test

I recently read Your Blood Never Lies: How To Read a Blood Test for a Longer Healthier Life by James B. LaValle.2

Here is some information I learned about reading blood tests.1

Red Blood Cells1

  • RBC stands for red blood cells (erythrocytes) and contains hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the body's tissues.
  • Hemoglobin is the iron-containing substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. Therefore, hemoglobin concentration decreases when there is a reduction of red cells. This condition is called anemia. Anemia causes a person to feel tired or short of breath.
  • The hematocrit (he-MAT-uh-krit) test measures the proportion of red blood cells in your blood. Usual amounts are 36 to 50 percent in males and 34 to 44 percent in females. Anemia occurs when the hematocrit level is below average; erythrocytosis occurs when the hematocrit is above standard. When you have too many red blood cells, this can increase your risk for blood clots.

White Blood Cells1

  • WBC stands for white blood cells, also known as leukocytes, the five types of infection-fighting cells in the blood. These include neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes.
  • Immature granulocytes are immature white blood cells. Immature granulocytes in blood test results usually mean that your body is fighting infection or inflammation.


  • Platelets, or thrombocytes, make up only a small portion of the blood but are indispensable to your health. Their primary function is to stop bleeding by helping the blood clot.

Cell Measurements1

  • Mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is a calculation of the average size of a red blood cell.
  • Red cell distribution width (RDW) measures the amount of red blood cell variation in volume and size.
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin (MCH) estimates the amount of hemoglobin in a single red blood cell. Wow! Isn't it amazing we have the tests that can do this!
  • Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) measures the amount of hemoglobin found in a group of red blood cells rather than only one.
  • A mean platelet volume (MPL) is a blood test that measures the average size of your platelets.

Empowered by Learning

Yes, there are some tests you can't prepare for, no matter what. For example, one of my third-grade students was anxious about an upcoming vision and hearing screening. His mother said, "Honey, it's not like you can study for it the night before!"

Likewise, we can't study for our blood tests, but we feel empowered the more we understand.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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