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Understanding HIV-Related Lab Tests I: Complete Blood Count and Blood Chemistry

July 2013

Table of Contents

Lab Tests Are Important Tools

Having regular lab tests is a necessary part of caring for your health. If you are living with HIV (HIV+), lab tests are especially important tools that help you and your health care provider keep track of how you are doing in the following areas:

Immune System Status

HIV Illness

Overall Health

The Basics


When you are first diagnosed as HIV+ and when you first start taking HIV drugs, you should get "baseline" tests that give a picture of your health at that moment. Later tests can be compared against these results to see how things are going, and if they are changing. Most lab tests should be done every three to six months, or as often as your health care provider recommends.

Because different labs use different equipment, test results from different labs can vary. Therefore, it is a good idea to have your tests done at the same lab each time. If you get an unexpected result on one test, your health care provider will probably want you to get a second test to see if the results are the same as the first one. Try not to worry too much about a single unexpected result -- usually trends over time are more important.

Most lab reports show the normal range of results from each test and highlight any of your results that are outside the normal range. The ranges listed below are general and may not be exactly the same as your lab. Look at your lab report for the normal ranges they use.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Blood is made up of different types of cells including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. The complete blood count (CBC) is a test that measures the amount of these cells in a sample of your blood. CBCs are especially important for HIV+ people because some HIV drugs and infections can cause changes in your red or white blood cell counts.

Blood Chemistry (Chemistry or Chem Screens)

Blood chemistry tests, also called chemistry or chem screens, measure certain chemicals in your blood. Results of these tests give your health care provider important information about your general health status, how well organs like the liver and kidneys are working, and whether you may be experiencing drug side effects. Abnormal results can indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. Important blood chemistry tests include:

Labs routinely group certain chem screen tests together and call them panels. Some common panels you may see listed on your lab report are:

The Bottom Line

Since many HIV+ people have no noticeable symptoms of health problems, it is important to get regular lab tests to monitor how you are doing. Abnormal blood tests can be a sign of serious health problems and need to be addressed as soon as possible so that you remain healthy and strong.

Whether you are taking HIV drugs or not, all the tests listed above are a key part of your medical care. Regular monitoring is an important way to take charge of your health.

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