You may not be a medical practitioner, but you’ve realized most of the time doctors request Full Blood Count (FBC) to be done on patients’ blood samples (By A Medical Laboratory Scientist -MLS). You keep wondering what it is. Out of curiosity, you may have peeped at your FBC report, and all you could make out of it were lots of three letter words, figures and graphs that make no sense to you. Have a seat and enjoy this eye opener.
To understand full blood count, you have to know what is in your own blood. Blood comprises of
- Cells, known as red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
- Plasma, which is the liquid part of your blood. Plasma enables blood flow.
Red blood cells contain haemoglobin. Haemoglobin makes your blood have the characteristic red colour. Ever heard the saying “when the last tree falls, the last man dies?”. Or heard that man needs oxygen to survive?. The oxygen binds to haemoglobin in the red blood cells and since blood circulates around the body, oxygen is delivered to all your body parts for various life processes.
White blood cells are the fighting agents in your body. Just like the security service that have different groups of people for various tasks, like soldiers, police, etc., there are different white cells which fight against different disease-causing organisms. Neutrophils fight against bacteria, Eosinophils-parasites, Lymphocytes-viruses, etc.
Platelets allow blood to cease flow to the outside of the body when you get a cut so that you don’t lose a lot of blood.
Plasma contains food nutrients, dissolved gases, hormones, proteins, waste products, etc. and distributes them as they circulate in the body.
Now that we’ve had a picture of our blood components, it will be quite easy to understand the full blood count report. The parameters are abbreviated as:
RBC = Red blood cell
HGB/HB = Haemoglobin
WBC = White blood cells
NEU = Neutrophils
BAS = Basophils
MON = Monocytes
EOS = Eosinophils
LYM = Lymphocytes
PLT = Platelets
There are reference ranges to which the figures/results are compared to, to know whether they’re high or low. The parameter which is high or low will determine what’s wrong with the patient.
HB: High: Polycythemia (abnormal increase in haemoglobin concentration, which may be caused by dehydration, living at high altitudes where there’s low oxygen, smoking, etc.)
Low: Anaemia (abnormal decrease in haemoglobin concentration, which may be caused by lack of folic acid, vitamin B12, iron, or loss of blood through bleeding, etc.)
NEU: High: Bacterial infection, stress, burns, inflammation (response to an injury/damage to living tissue)
Low: Exposure to radiation, effect of the intake of toxic drugs. lack of vitamin B12.
LYM: High: Viral infection, leukaemia (cancerous disease affecting the WBCs)
Low: Prolonged illness, weakened immune system.
MON: High: Viral or fungal infection, tuberculosis, leukaemia.
Low: Bone marrow (it produces blood cells) dysfunction, treatment with cortisol (hormonal drug)
EOS: High: Allergic reactions, parasitic infection, autoimmune diseases (a disease in which the body produces antibodies that attack its own tissues)
Low: Stress, drug toxicity.
BAS: High: Allergic reactions, leukaemia, cancers.
Low: Pregnancy, ovulation, stress.
PLT: Clotting disorders.
There are other parameters such as red cell indices, which are technical.
Next time when you receive your FBC result, at least you’ll have a fair idea about what it entails. We shall bring you a second part of this article which details other aspects.
PS: This article was written by Joseph Ofori, a graduate of University of Ghana, and a practising Medical Laboratory Scientist. It was proofread by MLS Arnold Agyapong and MLS Alexander Kwakye, who are both professional MLS’s also.