What Does ER Blood Work Check For?

ER Tips

May 23, 2024


Emergency Rooms (ERs) are equipped to handle a wide array of health concerns and often utilize blood work as a primary diagnostic tool. This critical assessment can reveal vital information about your body’s current state and help medical professionals make informed decisions about your treatment.

ER blood work typically checks for:

  • Infections: Highlighting the presence of conditions like sepsis.
  • Complete blood count (CBC): Identifying issues such as anemia or leukocytosis.
  • Blood sugar levels: Crucial for diagnosing diabetes or hypoglycemia.
  • Chemistry profile and electrolyte balance: Indicating dehydration, kidney issues, or other metabolic conditions.
  • Arterial blood gasses: Measuring the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH in your blood to assess respiratory function.
  • Liver and kidney functions: Detecting abnormalities that could indicate acute or chronic issues with these organs. This may also include a toxicology screen.
  • Coagulation tests: Assessing how well your blood clots can help identify bleeding disorders or the need for blood transfusions.

Whether you’re facing a medical emergency, like left-side abdominal pain, or simply curious about what goes on behind the scenes of ER laboratories, understanding the scope and significance of emergency room blood test results can provide valuable insights into the critical role they play in emergency medicine.

Please keep in mind that this is simply a list of possible blood panels that are common for an ER to run. What actual ER blood panels check for will depend on the symptoms for which you are being seen.

What do ER blood tests check for?

ER blood tests are comprehensive and designed to uncover a wide range of health issues that can affect a patient’s immediate and long-term care. What shows up on ER blood work spans from common conditions to critical, life-threatening disorders.

This crucial diagnostic tool helps uncover countless underlying health issues, from anemia to familial hypercholesterolemia, allowing medical professionals to start your treatment swiftly and accurately. Here’s a closer look at what emergency room blood tests commonly check for:

1. Infection

Infections are one of the primary concerns in emergency medicine, prompting ER teams to frequently utilize blood tests to identify bacterial, viral, or fungal invaders in the body. These tests measure white blood cell counts, which can significantly increase in the case of infection, alongside markers for inflammation such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).

The above indicators help physicians to quickly determine the presence of an acute infection, its severity, and often, its nature, which is crucial for administering the appropriate treatments without delay.

2. Complete blood count (CBC)

A complete blood count (CBC) is a fundamental part of any ER blood test, providing a comprehensive overview of the components within your blood. This includes:

  • White blood cells (WBC)
  • Red blood cells (RBC)
  • Hemoglobin
  • Hematocrit
  • Platelets

A CBC can reveal conditions such as anemia, infections, and even signs of cancer. It is instrumental in assessing your overall health and can indicate the need for further testing or immediate medical intervention.

3. Blood sugar levels

Monitoring blood sugar levels is essential in the emergency room setting, especially if you have diabetes or are presenting symptoms of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. High blood sugar can indicate severe complications of diabetes, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which requires prompt treatment.

Conversely, low blood sugar levels need immediate correction to prevent serious consequences, including loss of consciousness or diabetic seizures. Emergency room blood tests quickly provide these critical values, enabling healthcare providers to make fast, lifesaving decisions.

4. Chemistry profile and electrolyte balance

Electrolyte imbalances and kidney dysfunction can manifest with a range of symptoms from mild to severe, making blood tests for these parameters vital in the ER, especially for those being treated for severe dehydration signs.

Tests typically include measurements of:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Bicarbonate
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
  • Creatinine

These results can help diagnose dehydration, renal failure, and electrolyte disorders, which may apply if you have chronic illnesses or are in acute distress. Immediate correction of these imbalances is often necessary to prevent further organ damage and stabilize patients in distress.

5. Arterial blood gasses (ABGs)

Arterial blood gasses (ABGs) are a crucial diagnostic tool in the emergency room, providing detailed information about your oxygenation, carbon dioxide levels, and blood pH. This test is essential for assessing patients with respiratory distress or complications from chronic pulmonary diseases.

ABGs can help in diagnosing respiratory acidosis or alkalosis, metabolic acidosis or alkalosis, and in guiding oxygen therapy and ventilation support. Quick assessment of these values enables healthcare providers to intervene appropriately in critical situations, such as acute respiratory failure or severe metabolic disturbances.

6. Liver and kidney functions

Liver function tests are crucial to diagnose and monitor liver diseases or damage. These tests measure levels of enzymes and proteins in the blood, including:

  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • Bilirubin

Elevated levels of these enzymes can indicate liver inflammation, damage, or liver disease,

such as hepatitis or cirrhosis. Understanding the extent of liver function is vital for determining the appropriate treatment plan. It also helps in the identification of potential toxic ingestions leading to acute liver failure, requiring immediate medical attention.

7. Coagulation tests

Coagulation tests, including Prothrombin Time (PT), International Normalized Ratio (INR), and Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time (aPTT), are vital in the ER for patients who present with signs of uncontrolled bleeding or are at risk for thrombotic events.

These tests assess your blood’s ability to clot properly and are critical for patients with suspected disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) or with liver disease affecting clotting factors. Fast and accurate coagulation testing can help guide treatment decisions, such as transfusions or administration of clotting factors, and prevent complications like bleeding or thrombosis.

Moreover, coagulation tests are also essential for monitoring patients on anticoagulant therapy to ensure they are within a safe therapeutic range. This is crucial in preventing life-threatening bleeds or blood clots that may lead to heart attacks or strokes. In the event of a patient presenting with an acute bleed, coagulation tests can help assess the severity of the situation and guide interventions to stop or prevent further bleeding.

Learn more about myocardial infarction warning signs.

How long do blood tests take in the ER?

The turnaround time for blood tests in the emergency room (ER) can vary significantly based on the complexity of the test and the efficiency of the laboratory processing the samples. Typically, most basic blood tests can be processed and have results ready within a few hours. However, more specialized tests may take longer to process.

The ER staff must prioritize these tests based on your clinical condition and the urgency of the situation. Rapid access to blood test results allows for quicker decision-making and can significantly affect patient outcomes, particularly in critical care situations.

ERs often employ point-of-care testing (POCT) devices for immediate results on critical parameters, expediting patient management and treatment plans. In essence, the goal is to minimize wait times for test results without compromising the accuracy and reliability of the diagnostics, ensuring that you receive the most effective and timely care possible.

Visit Complete Care for all of your emergency needs!

ER blood tests are essential diagnostics that help quickly assess and manage emergency situations like bleeding disorders and clotting issues, with turnaround times varying based on test complexity and lab efficiency, ensuring swift and reliable patient care.

When you need to be seen for a medical emergency, Complete Care is here for you. We understand that time is of the essence in an emergency, which is why we strive to minimize wait times for blood test results without compromising accuracy or reliability. Our locations each have on-site laboratory services that enable us to provide rapid turnaround times for critical diagnostic tests, allowing us to make swift and informed decisions regarding your care.

With locations throughout Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs, and a team of dedicated medical professionals, we are committed to providing you and your loved ones with the highest quality emergency care.

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