The ABCs of Lab Testing Part 2

posted on January 02, 2016 by Dr. Jamie Hartman

There are a lot of acronyms used in the medical field.  One area where we use abbreviations frequently is with the blood work and laboratory tests we run.  In this three part series of blogs, we will look at some of the different abbreviations and acronyms we use so you can speak the lingo with us!

This second part of the series will focus on the chemistry profile or chem.  It is a test that looks at liver and kidney values, proteins, blood sugar, and sometimes electrolytes.

There are a number of liver enzymes that we can look at.  ALP, or alkaline phosphatase, ALT, alanine aminotransferase, and AST, aspartate aminotransferase are three of the main liver enzymes we look at.  Elevations can indicate inflammation in the body or GI tract, can indicate liver disease, or they can be elevated with other disease processes such as gall bladder disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, or Cushing’s disease.  Some medications can also cause liver enzyme elevations.  In some growing puppies and kittens these can be elevated as well with bone growth.

Total bilirubin or T bili, or bili, is a liver enzyme that is associated with the gall bladder.  Bilirubin is a breakdown product of blood, and is metabolized into bile, which is excreted into the GI tract.  Elevations can indicate liver or gall bladder disease, or other GI tract disease, as well as bleeding issues.  Another liver enzyme we look at is GGT, or gamma glutamyltransferase.  Elevations in this enzyme can indicate gall bladder stasis.  Some medications can also cause elevations.

The main kidney values we assess are BUN, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine.  BUN is a measure of the nitrogen wastes in the blood stream.  It can be elevated with dehydration, kidney disease, high protein diets, bleeding in the GI tract, or dental disease.  Creatinine is a metabolite created by the body.  It is almost entirely removed from the body by the kidneys, so it is a good indicator of kidney function.  If it is elevated, kidney function is likely diminished.

Amylase, or amy,  is a digestive enzyme that we look at.  Elevations can be seen with inflammation in the pancreas or GI tract, and can be indicative of pancreatitis, vomiting, or inappetence.

Blood proteins such as globulins, glob, albumin, alb, and total proteins, TP, can help us determine look at a number of body functions.  Proteins are ingested via the diet, metabolized by the liver, and can be lost through the kidneys or liver.  Proteins are used to do a number of important functions in the body, such as carrying electrolytes, binding immune metabolites, and building tissues.  Elevations can indicate dehydration or illness, while decreased levels can indicate protein losing diseases, bleeding or trauma, or inappropriate nutrient absorption.

Blood sugar or blood glucose is a measure of the the sugar in the blood stream.  Sugar is used as the energy/fuel for the body.  Hypoglycemia, or a blood sugar that is too low can lead to signs of confusion and muscle weakness and incoordination.  Elevated blood sugars can be seen as a stress response, but can also indicate diabetes-the body’s inability to use the sugars as fuel, which leads to weight loss, increased appetite, and often increased thirst and urination as the kidneys flush the excess sugar out.

Lastly, there are a number of electrolytes we can look at.  Potassium, K, and Phosphorus, Phos, are both electrolytes involved with kidney function.  Potassium, when looked at with Sodium, Na, can also indicate issues with metabolism such as Addison’s disease.  Calcium, Ca, can be elevated with diseases of the bone, or certain types of cancer.  These electrolytes can also be altered with bone growth, vomiting, diarrhea, or other metabolic issues.

As you can tell, abbreviations are very useful when talking about the items on a chemistry profile!  Overall, the chemistry profile gives us a good idea what is going on in the body.  Yearly to semi-annual monitoring of this along with a CBC to look at red and white blood cells can help us recognize diseases early which can lead to faster treatment, better outcomes, and longer lives.  Next month we will discuss a few of the other additional tests we may use or recommend.