What is a reference range?

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You went to the doctor or had a laboratory screening or diagnostic test performed and the results are in.  For some tests, the result is easy and straightforward to read – positive or negative. However, many tests require some interpretation when results are above or below the reference range.

A reference range, in many cases, is established by testing a large number of healthy individuals and observing what is “normal” for them. A range may be established for age groups or for gender depending on the test. Reference ranges can vary between laboratories due to different instrumentation and testing methods, or be standardized nationally.

This sounds pretty straight forward, right? The key to interpreting the results is your physician’s knowledge of what may interfere with the results, such as your health status, age, medications, herbal remedies, vitamin intake, diet, exercise habits and even occupation. It is also very important to have followed instructions before the test, such as fasting for the proper amount of time.

Remember, a reference range is merely a guide for your doctor as he/she tries to understand the overall clinical picture of your health. It is important to share any special circumstance that could affect a test.


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