Nurse, I need a CBC Stat! If you're a fan of TV medical shows, you've probably heard doctors deliver this line a dozen times. But what exactly is a CBC? It's a blood test that measures how many red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cells are in a person's blood. This test helps doctors diagnose all sorts of health problems.
For example, if a CBC reveals a low red blood cell count, it means that the red blood cells aren't picking up enough oxygen from the lungs and carrying it to the other cells in the body. And since the cells aren't getting enough oxygen, they aren't doing their jobs, causing symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and pale skin. This is a condition called anemia.
Then there are white blood cells. Unlike red blood cells, these cells destroy foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. When people have bacterial infections, their bodies produce more white blood cells. So a high white blood cell count may indicate a bacterial infection, leukemia, or tissue damage, whereas a low white blood cell count may indicate a viral infection or a toxic reaction.
The CBC isn't the only common medical test that doctors use to monitor your health. If you've ever visited a doctor, you've probably had your blood pressure measured. Did you ever wonder why they do this? It's usually to check for high blood pressurehypertension. About 50,000,000 Americans over the age of six have this serious condition. Hypertension is a "silent killer" that damages organs and leads to heart disease without causing any pain.
What exactly is healthy blood pressure? Healthy blood pressure for a child is lower than what's considered healthy for an adult. For example, a teen with a blood pressure reading of 110/70 would be considered healthy, while a reading of 130/85 may be normal for an adult. Keep in mind that your blood pressure changes constantly depending on how much you move around, but if it stays above 140/90, it's considered high.
What causes hypertension? Many things can, including being overweight, inactivity, high cholesterol, smoking, and genetics. But if you have high blood pressure, take heart: You can usually lower it through diet, exercise, and medication. So play it safe and get your blood pressure checked at least once a year.