Labwork : CBC - by Staff

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I Watched Charlie Sheen on The Dr. Oz Show So You Don't Have To (blog) (14 comments)

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Hepatitis & HIV



by Staff

—EXPERTS CALL IT: “Complete blood count (CBC)” or “hemogram”
—IT TELLS YOU: Whether your immune system is fighting infection, whether you are anemic and whether you have a bleeding or blood disorder
—TAKE IT: Every three months if you’re on meds. If not on meds, with your annual physical and for symptoms like fatigue, fever, bruising, bleeding.
—RESULTS IN: 1 day

M. Lo Talks: “I don’t ever want to go through that again,” Michelle says of her encounters with anemia. “I didn’t even want to get up and take a shower or do things for my kids. But the last two times, the Procrit pretty quickly brought me back to normal.”

Counting blood cells—red ones, white ones and platelets—is fast and easy, and the test is a staple for HIVers. It can offer key evidence to support a diagnosis for common complaints, such as anemia—a problem for Michelle—or, worse, pneumonia, bone-marrow disease or cancer. And it can monitor some of the side effects of HIV meds.

White blood cells (WBC), produced in your bone marrow, are your body’s front line against infection—what it’s all about for HIVers. A high WBC count suggests a battle is already underway; a low one could be caused by the effects of HIV meds, HIV itself or a bone-marrow problem. A normal count is between 3,500 and 11,000 per cubic millimeter of blood.

Hemoglobin (HGB) helps the other kind of blood cells—the red ones—carry vital oxygen from your lungs to all your other cells. It runs low in as many as 20 percent of HIVers (with women and African Americans especially vulnerable), resulting in a condition called anemia that causes fatigue, listlessness and shortness of breath.

Some HIVers get anemia from the virus’ effect on their blood cells, but most do because of the meds they’re taking. The AZT in Michelle’s current Trizivir regimen tends to make her anemic, for instance. Drugs like Procrit stimulate red blood cell production and almost always give your HGB (read: energy) the necessary boost. Procrit has worked twice for Michelle. And HIVers who are also iron deficient may be helped by taking iron supplements (but ask your doc first).

On the other hand, HIVers on testosterone replacement (for an HIV- or drug-induced drop in your sex drive or muscle mass) or anabolic steroids (for wasting) may see hemoglobin run high—and risk damage to the liver and other organs. Normal HGB for men is 13 to 17 grams per deciliter, while for women it’s 12 to 16.

Hematocrit (HCT) tells you what proportion of your blood consists of red blood cells. A low result (like Michelle’s) confirms you’re anemic; a high one could be from smoking (or living at a high altitude), but dehydration, lung disease and certain tumors can also make it spike. For men, a healthy range is 39 to 50 percent; for women, it’s 36 to 46 percent.

Platelets are the tiny, round disks that make your blood clot—and stop wounds from bleeding. HIVers are prone to low platelet counts (the condition is called thrombocytopenia). Pink dots on the shins or the upper palate are early signs that yours are low. The average platelet count is 140,000 to 400,000 per microliter; the risk of bleeding increases below 40,000.

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