Our blood contains much more than just red blood cells. There are many other biomarkers of health. What are these biomarkers, and what do their presence or lack of mean?

Our blood contains information about the state of our health. Blood tests can indicate how well various organs are working. These tests measure biomarkers that may indicate underlying diseases.

Biomarkers associated with one organ are read together — known as a panel — to ensure a consistent assessment of the health of that organ.

“Renal and liver panels, and full blood count (FBC) tests are common blood tests to assess overall organ function and detect any potential underlying illnesses. For patients with diabetes or hypertension, a renal panel is done on a regular basis,” said Dr Michelle Ee, Associate Consultant, Department of Family Medicine and Continuing Care (FMCC), Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “They can also be monitored following the mediumto long-term use of certain medications such as antibiotics and chemotherapy." Such tests, however, should not be interpreted without a proper clinical assessment of the patient through history taking and physical examination, said Dr Andrew Wong, Consultant, Department of FMCC, SGH. "The readings from a renal or liver panel, together with the patient's risks and signs or symptoms, give an indication of whether kidney or liver disease is present respectively. Abnormal individual test results within a panel can be due to causes other than diseases of the specific organ. Paradoxically, normal results may show in patients with serious liver disease, for instance,” Dr Wong added.

Patients suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes or with a family history of kidney disease are usually asked to undergo a renal panel as they are at risk of kidney disease; likewise patients who show symptoms that suggest they have a condition affecting the function of their kidneys, such as urine that is foamy, bloody or coffeecoloured. Similarly, a liver panel is ordered when there are signs and symptoms that suggest a liver condition such as jaundice, dark urine, and light-coloured stools.

*Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, and differ between laboratories performing the test(s). Refer to the reference range for your test(s) as stated on your lab report.