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I would like to expand my vocabulary with some medical terms in English. I have been thinking about how to say, for example, if I go to see a doctor for a blood test.

Q1) Are these phrases correct?

a) "Tomorrow I will have to see a doctor on an empty stomach to take blood for a REGULAR blood test."

b) "Tomorrow I will have to see a doctor on an empty stomach to take blood for a ROUTINE blood test."

c) "Tomorrow I will have to see a doctor to take blood for a REGULAR FASTING blood test."

d) "Tomorrow I will have to see a doctor to take blood for a ROUTINE FASTING blood test."

Q2) Can the phrase "fasting" be used instead of "on an empty stomach" as I write it?

Q3) I came across the term "a routine blood-work". Is it another term for "a blood test"?

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3 Answers 3

A routine blood test is one that you might have as a cautionary measure, in the absence of any symptoms. A fasting blood test is the normal term for a blood test taken when you haven’t eaten for several hours. It would be unusual, but not ungrammatical, to speak of a routine fasting blood test. You’d be more likely to hear someone say I’m having a routine blood test tomorrow. It’s a fasting one, so I shan’t be able to eat after eight o’clock tonight. I haven’t heard the term routine blood-work.

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Everything about that is exactly how an American would perceive it and say it...except for "shan't"; that doesn't exist in the AmE variety. –  Mitch Nov 12 '12 at 13:07
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Blood work or a blood workup was standard when I worked in a US hospital 20 years ago. –  StoneyB Nov 12 '12 at 13:08
    
I often hear medical technicians talk about "doing blood work" to refer to work involved in performing blood tests. –  Jay Nov 12 '12 at 17:38

There are so many different kinds of blood tests, that it doesn't really make sense to say "routine blood test" or a "regular blood test". Blood tests are specialized depending on what information the doctor needs.

What you're probably thinking of is a complete blood count (CBC). Sometimes this is called a "blood panel" and usually means Chemistry Panel & Complete Blood Count (CBC), which requires 12 hours of fasting before having the blood drawn. "Blood cholesterol, triglyceride and glucose levels are the most common tests that require fasting."

When I'm asked to take a routine blood test (no fasting required) by my urologist, it's different from the routine blood test (fasting required) that my cardiologist asks me to take. The one that the internal medicine doctor asked me to take last Friday didn't require me to fast, but it's a routine blood test for someone about to have a colonoscopy (I had an attack of diverticulitis the weekend before and had to spend the night in the ER with an IV feed pumping antibiotics into my vein). I'm sure that it won't measure all the same values required by the other doctors I've had to have blood tests for. If your doctor thinks that you might have diabetes mellitus, then you have to take a "fasting blood glucose test".

It's probably best to say that you have to take a fasting blood test or a non-fasting blood test for your [medical specialty] doctor tomorrow. Of course, talking about having to take a specific kind of blood test invites your listener to ask questions about your health, so you might not want to even mention it. And if you don't know the type of blood test you have to take, using the wrong name is worse than just saying that you have to take a blood test without being too specific about it.

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Hmm, you seem to contradict yourself. In the first paragraph you say that it's meaningless to say "routine blood test", but then in your third paragraph you refer to several doctors using the phrase and you comment on what it means in context. It's surely true that if you went to the hospital and said, "My doctor told me to get a routine blood test", that that would be insufficiently descriptive to tell them what tests to perform. "Routine" in this context doesn't mean "such-and-such specific set of tests". ... –  Jay Nov 12 '12 at 17:42
    
... Rather, it means a test that is not extraordinary or special, i.e. this is not an emergency or a test for some rare disease or something of the sort. Like if I say, "Fred got an ordinary job," the fact that that does not tell you whether the job was as a clerk or an accountant or whatever does not make it meaningless. –  Jay Nov 12 '12 at 17:43
    
@Jay: My point in par3: "routine" means different things in different contexts. Fred's "ordinary job" is almost meaningless to me: it says only that "Fred's working". My job's "ordinary" in one sense but extraordinary in another: very few people edit biomed papers here. Most of my friends are EFL teachers, doctors, med school professors, nurses (my wife), & MBA students. They wouldn't say "ordinary job". They'd specify university or cram school EFL job, hospital or private clinic job, clerical job, job as a cook or waiter, job as an OR nurse (wife's new job), etc. Routine blood test: "I'm OK". –  user21497 Nov 12 '12 at 21:48
    
It would be quite reasonable and meaningful for someone to write, e.g., "Until the startling events of last April, Fred lived a dull, common life. He lived in an apartment just like a million other apartments. He had an ORDINARY JOB. He drove to work every day and drove home every evening, where he watched television until 10:00 and then went to bed ..." Sure, words like "routine" and "ordinary" are vague without context. But that doesn't make them meaningless. Lots of words are vague if taken out of context. Indeed, sometimes there is good reason to be imprecise. –  Jay Nov 13 '12 at 15:06
    
@Jay: Now that you put those words into a paragraph that reads like the beginning of a Franz Kafka story, you're quite right. Those words are setups for characters like Joseph K. and Gregor Samsa. One of my basic premises about language is that words mean nothing out of context, and that they take on a life of their own in context. A friend just told me he's quitting his EFL teaching jobs, moving to Taipei, & starting a new job with a relative who owns an international trading company. He's going to get a for-me "ordinary job": sales. For him, however, it's extraordinary. He said new job. –  user21497 Nov 13 '12 at 15:31

  • Q1) all are correct. But 'regular fasting' and 'routine fasting' are not set phrases, they're just two independent adjectives in sequence; 'regular, fasting' or 'routine, fasting' is how you'd want to write/say it to say that your blood test was both a repeating occurrence, and, separately, done after not eating for a while. For example, you can say:

    My yearly checkup was this morning. I had a regular, fasting blood test.

Just for nuance, it sounds strange to my ears to say 'fasting blood work'. 'Blood work' sounds more like the lab procedures analyzing the blood, so 'fasting' really doesn't seem an appropriate modifier. 'Blood test' sounds like the whole process of taking the blood from a vein and then analyzing it, so saying that you prepped for it by fasting is a reasonable modifier.

  • Q2) Yes, 'fasting' is often how they say the synonymous idea, but you have to use it syntactically as you did (you can't just replace in the same spot).

    I went to the clinic on am empty stomach for a blood test.

    I went to the clinic for a fasting blood test.

  • Q3) 'blood test' and 'blood work' are synonymous. But 'blood work' is a mass noun so is never 'a blood work'. Also, 'routine' adds meaning. That is,

    I went in for my yearly physical and had some routine blood work

    I thought I had the flu , so the doctor had some blood work done.

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Thank you all for your helpful and useful answers. I know what I wanted to know. :-) I see now that "a fasting blood test" and "a routine blood test" can't be mixed together as I have made it. –  GoldLight Nov 12 '12 at 14:01
    
Um, sure, you can mix them. You can certainly say "a routine, fasting blood test", if you want to tell people that you get this particular test at regularly spaced intervals, and also that you don't eat beforehand. –  Mitch Nov 12 '12 at 14:05
    
I see. I've thought that I would use the word "fasting" as an additional information. The main information I would express is "a routine blood test" which repeats every six months and it is " an unpleasant fasting blood test". –  GoldLight Nov 12 '12 at 15:03
    
I've changed it a little in order to practise other phrases. "Tomorrow I will have to see a doctor. I have a regular half-yearly check-up of my blood value of XZY. It is a routine, fasting blood test, i.e. I have to go out early in the morning on an empty stomach ( I hate it)." Have I written it correctly? It is still not easy for me to put together these words into a sentence. –  GoldLight Nov 12 '12 at 19:46
    
I would write that (AmE) as "Tomorrow I will be going to the doctor. I have a regular half-yearly check-up. I'll have a routine, fasting blood test of my XZY level. That means I have to go out early in the morning without breakfast (I hate it)." You go for a check-up and at the check-up you have a blood test; you don't go for a check up of the blood test. Though correct syntax and synonymous, it just seems more natural to say 'without breakfast' instead of 'on an empty stomach'. –  Mitch Nov 12 '12 at 21:48

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