When you go to the doctor for your annual checkup, you probably have some blood drawn for routine blood work. What exactly does that blood work consist of? Well, one of the tests usually is the basic metabolic panel. Let’s look at what this test is for and how to interpret the results.
WHAT IS THE BASIC METABOLIC PANEL (BMP) TEST?
This routine blood test looks at various processes the body uses to convert or use energy, such as breathing, circulation, digestion and more. The BMP test generally assesses kidney function, blood sugar levels and base/acid balance in the blood. These three things are important indicators of your overall health.
Specifically, the BMP measures the following:
- Blood-Urea-Nitrogen (BUN)
- Blood carbon dioxide levels
- Creatinine levels
- Blood sugar levels
- Blood (serum) sodium, potassium and chloride levels
Some labs and providers also include blood calcium levels in their BMP results.
HOW TO TAKE THE BASIC METABOLIC PANEL TEST
You will need to give a blood sample for this test. Some providers will take the sample right in the exam room, while others will send you to a laboratory for testing. In either case, a technician will use a small needle to take a vial of blood from a vein in your arm. The procedure is relatively painless. It’s important not to eat or drink anything for at least eight hours prior to this test. The BMP is a “fasting” blood test.
NORMAL LAB VALUES
Your test results should include a “reference range” that indicates normal lab values for each item checked in the test. Here are the current reference ranges for the basic metabolic panel:
- BUN: 7 to 20 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter)
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): 20 to 29 mmol/L (millimoles per liter)
- Creatinine: 0.8 to 1.4 mg/dL
- Blood sugar (glucose): 64 to 128 mg/dL
- Serum chloride: 101 to 111 mmol/L
- Serum potassium: 3.7 to 5.2 mEq/L (milliequivalents per liter)
- Serum sodium: 136 to 144 mEq/L
Do not concern yourself with understanding what terms like “milliequivalents” mean. Just look at your numbers compared to the range.
BORDERLINE LAB RESULTS
You may discover one of your results flagged by the lab for being “out of range.” This does not necessarily mean there’s anything abnormal. Any result outside the range will be flagged. Your serum sodium, for example, may return a flagged result of 134. Do not be concerned if your health care provider does not address this as an “abnormal” test result. Results that are within one or two points of the stated reference range are usually considered “borderline” and do not necessarily warrant any intervention.
ABNORMAL RESULTS ON THE BASIC METABOLIC PANEL
If your BMP returns truly abnormal results, your health care provider will be in touch with you to determine what steps to take. Usually, the first step is a re-test. Errors at the lab or drawing blood from a non-fasting patient can cause skewed test results.
In general, abnormal results of the BMP can correlate to certain disease processes, including:
- Abnormal BUN and/or abnormal creatinine: May indicate kidney issues, including kidney failure.
- Abnormal CO2 and/or serum chloride results: Possible lung/breathing issues.
- Abnormal serum potassium and/or serum sodium: Possible heart issues, including hypertension.
Sometimes medications can cause abnormal results, too. Rest assured your health care provider will address any abnormal results on your basic metabolic panel test.
BASIC METABOLIC PANEL: ONE TOOL IN A DIAGNOSTIC ARSENAL
Always remember the basic metabolic panel is but one diagnostic tool your health care provider uses in pinpointing health problems. In fact, the BMP is often the first-line tool used to screen for potential underlying health concerns and catch them early. Early detection leads of health issues leads to better outcomes.
If you don’t get a routine annual checkup, you should start to do so. Getting a BMP test each year will help you live a healthier life.