I never cared about the results of blood tests when I was younger. I always expected the results to be normal, whatever normal was. Now I study the results like I’m ready to take my SAT test. What’s a normal level of glucose in the blood? Is HDL good or bad cholesterol? Is my WBC (white blood count) within acceptable limits?
I’ve learned that markers in the blood are important because they can tell us if something is wrong or about to go wrong. For example, low levels of hemoglobin could signify loss of blood due to anemia or internal bleeding caused by cancer; an elevated white blood count could mean you’re fighting an infection; if you don’t have sufficient vitamin D3, your bones won’t stay strong.
But—and this is a big but–all doctors don’t order the same battery of tests, nor do they all interpret the results the same way. A more conservative doctor will prescribe a statin drug to lower an overall cholesterol count of 200, while another won’t recommend a thing if your individual HDL (good) and LDL (bad) numbers are in line. One cardiologist will prescribe blood pressure meds if your pressure goes modestly north of 120/80, while another doesn’t think you need them.
A new internist I recently saw called to tell me the results of a T4 free test she ran, which determines thyroid function. “You might have an underactive thyroid,” she told me over the phone while I was waiting to get a manicure. “That could lead to problems with cholesterol, weight, and other things. You need to see an endocrinologist. I can recommend one.”
I am already under the care of an endocrinologist for my bones, so I didn’t need a recommendation, but I thought how could I possibly have an underactive thyroid when I have as much energy as ever and have lost, not gained, weight? Then, when I did some digging on the Internet, I learned that many labs would absolutely not consider the results of my T4 Test to be out of normal range. When I spoke to my endocrinologist, she told me that “guru” docs in her field don’t even use the T4 test, except in extreme circumstances, when a patient is exhibiting signs of an underactive or overactive thyroid, and that results of other tests showed my thyroid is completely fine.
When I brought this up with the internist, she didn’t budge from her original position.
What’s an FOF to do? This FOF decided to trust her current endocrinologist. If anyone will know she has an under active thyroid–without taking a test–it’s moi.
Moral of the story: We must insert ourselves into the process of managing our own health. Doctors are not Gods. Even great doctors make mistakes and their judgements aren’t foolproof.