Understanding Lab Results
Updated: Oct 27, 2022
For those on a fertility journey, lab work can almost become second nature. It seems there are countless tests to be run that all provide a different snapshot of how their body is functioning. (You can find insight on some of the top tests I recommend my clients request from their medical provider here!)
When lab results come in, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the numbers and terms. Is a positive result a good thing…or not? Is the normal range what’s right for my body too? It’s my goal to empower my clients and the coaches I train to be able to ask the right questions of their medical provider so the lab results can act as a sign post on the journey rather than a mud pit.
How to talk to your doctor about your lab results:
Ranges: Lab results will often show as a range of numbers, also called a reference range. According to the National Library of Medicine, “reference ranges are based on the normal test results of a large group of healthy people. The range helps show what a typical normal result looks like.” However, it’s important to note that normal isn’t necessarily optimal, especially when it comes to fertility. For example, blood levels above 20 ng/mL are considered normal for Vitamin D, but between 40-60 ng/mL is actually optimal. It’s a good idea to talk to your medical provider about what optimal ranges are for each test and how you can support your body to reach that range.
Terminology: Common lab test results will use terms like positive/negative, normal/abnormal, and inconclusive. What these terms mean really depends on the test. However, here is a general glossary of the terms you might see and what follow up could be needed.
Positive: The lab found what they were testing for. A positive result doesn’t always mean “good” (although it does with a positive pregnancy test!), but rather it will vary from test to test.
Negative: The lab did not find what they were testing for. Again, this is not necessarily “bad,” so be sure to verify with your doctor what the lab was testing before coming to any conclusions.
Normal: Your result falls within the expected range of a “healthy” person. However, as discussed above, this does not always indicate that your results are optimal and further discussion is needed.
Abnormal: Your result does not fall within the expected range. This does not necessarily mean there is cause for concern, but it’s important to discuss this with your provider to understand how this result impacts your health and fertility.
Inconclusive: The lab was not able to determine a clear result. In this case, further testing may be needed. Talk with your doctor about why the test might have been inconclusive, and if there’s anything you can do to improve the accuracy for follow up testing.
3. Accuracy: Though we count on lab tests to give us a concrete picture of what’s going on in our body, there are variables that can impact the accuracy of a test. Here are some examples that you can consider when going over the results with your provider:
Your cycle: Certain tests must be run at specific times in your menstrual cycle, so if your cycle is inconsistent or unpredictable, the test may have been run at the wrong time of the month.
Medications/Supplements: Prescription medications and even supplements can impact the accuracy of certain blood tests. Be sure to talk with your provider about everything you’re taking prior to testing to ensure adjustments are made accordingly.
Stress: I cannot stress (no pun intended!) the importance and impact that stress levels have on fertility enough. (I talk more about this here!) Understanding a person’s mindset and stress levels at the time of testing should absolutely be considered when interpreting the results.
I also recommend doing all of your testing at the same lab to maintain consistency, and retaining all of your own lab records in a binder so you can keep track of your progress over time and nothing is lost in transit between clinics.
Although lab tests are a helpful tool in determining root causes for any possible fertility issues, it’s important to not be discouraged by any results that are not optimal. Rather, I like to think of lab results as a way to better understand what our bodies need. It’s then that you can enlist your fertility team (with your medical provider as the lead) to create an action plan that addresses the health of the person as a whole - mind, body, and spirit.