Blood chemistry tests / Basic metabolic panel

Blood chemistry tests are also known as the basic metabolic panel; this test assesses a number of different chemicals in the blood. There are eight different tests within the basic metabolic panel; these include:

  • Glucose levels
  • Calcium
  • Electrolytes- this includes sodium, potassium and chloride
  • Kidney tests- these include BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine

Glucose tests

Glucose tests are usually used to test for diabetes, but they may also be recommended for people with hypoglaecemia (low blood sugar levels) and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels) as a means of monitoring their condition. If you have diabetes you may have several blood glucose tests each day; this will help to ensure your blood sugar levels are at a safe and stable level.


Tests are sometimes carried out to check the levels of calcium in the blood are at a safe and normal level. This test is usually recommended for people with symptoms of kidney, bone and nerve conditions.


Electrolyte tests are used to determine the levels of electrolytes in the blood. Electrolytes are very important, as they help to move nutrients around the body, maintain the pH balance in the body and ensure the water levels in the body are healthy and stable. An electrolyte imbalance can be symptomatic of a number of different health conditions, so many people are advised to have electrolyte tests. Electrolyte tests assess the levels of sodium, potassium and chloride in the blood.

Kidney tests

Kidney tests are used to assess the function of the kidneys and test the effectiveness of treatments for kidney conditions. There are two different kidney function tests: these tests measure the levels of blood urea and creatinine, which are waste products; a high level of waste products in the blood usually indicates that the kidneys are not working effectively.

How is the test performed?

The basic metabolic panel is performed by taking a blood sample from a vein in the arm; the doctor or nurse will place a tourniquet around the upper arm; this will become tighter, causing the veins in the arm to temporarily swell (this makes it easier for the doctor or nurse to collect the sample). A needle will be inserted into the vein (usually on the inside of the elbow) and a sample of blood will be collected in the syringe attached to the needle. The sample will then be bottled, labelled and sent to the laboratory for analysis.

For some tests, such as the blood glucose level test, you may need to fast for a period of time before the test; this is to ensure the test result is as accurate as possible.

What is the test used for?

The basic metabolic panel is used to test for a range of different health conditions; the blood chemistry test can be used to monitor and assess blood glucose levels, assess kidney function and monitor the effectiveness of treatments for kidney problems and assess pH balance and electrolyte levels. The test is recommended for patients with both acute and chronic health conditions.

What do the results mean?

Once the test results have been returned to your doctor, they will explain them to you and discuss further treatment if this is necessary. Some of the more common interpretations of basic metabolic panel results are listed below:

  • Glucose levels: high glucose levels (hyperglycaemia) usually indicate diabetes; however, other health conditions, including acute stress, Cushing syndrome, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism and certain types of medication may also cause high blood sugar levels. Low blood glucose levels (hypoglycaemia) may indicate hypothyroidism, liver disease, an insulin overdose and malnutrition (usually starvation). Blood glucose levels should be below 99 mg/dl (milligrams per decilitre); people with prediabetes have glucose levels of between 100 and 125 mg/dl and diabetes sufferers usually have a blood glucose level of over 126 mg/dl.
  • Calcium test: high levels of calcium (hypercalcemia) may indicate conditions including: hyperparathyroidism (an overactive parathyroid gland), cancer (when it spreads to the bones), hyperthyroidism and tuberculosis. Low levels of calcium (hypocalcemia) may indicate low blood protein levels, hypoparathyroidism (underactive parathyroid gland), deficiency of vitamin D or magnesium, alcoholism and malnutrition.
  • Electrolytes: the electrolyte test assesses the levels of sodium, potassium and chloride:
    • A high level of sodium (known as hypernatremia) may indicate kindey disease; it is also symptomatic of dehydration and repeated bouts of diarrhoea.
    • A low level of sodium (hyponatremia) may be symptomatic of liver disease, a sodium deficiency (caused by a poor diet), pneumonia and poorly controlled diabetes.
    • A high level of potassium (hyperkalemia) may indicate kidney failure.
    • A low level of potassium (hypokalemia) may indicate persistent vomiting or diarrhoea or excessive sweating.
    • A high level of chloride (hyperchloremia) may indicate an overactive parathyroid gland, kidney disease and persistent diarrhoea.
    • A low level of chloride (hypochloremia) may be symptomatic of certain forms of kidney disease but it is usually a result of persistent vomiting or heavy sweating.

In some cases, there may be an imbalance in more than one electrolyte; this may indicate heart problems, diabetes and muscle and nerve conditions.

  • Kidney tests: increased levels of the waste products, blood urea and creatinine, may indicate that the kidneys are not working effectively. High levels of urea in the blood may suggest both acute and chronic kidney problems, including kidney failure, kidney damage and kidney disease. High levels may also be a result of another health condition, such as congestive heart failure, stress, shock or dehydration. Low levels of blood urea are very rare; they are not usually a cause for concern but in rare cases, they may be symptomatic of liver disease. High levels of creatinine may indicate kidney stones, prostate disease, bacterial infections of the kidneys, damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys (usually caused by infections or autoimmune systems) and damage to the cells in the tiny tubes in the kidneys (known as acute tubular necrosis), which is usually caused by drugs or harmful toxins.

Blood Test Types

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