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Clinical Chemistry

What is clinical chemistry?

Clinical chemistry uses chemical processes to measure levels of chemical components in body fluids. The most common specimens used in clinical chemistry are blood and urine. Many different tests exist to test for almost any type of chemical component in blood or urine. Components may include blood glucose, electrolytes, enzymes, hormones, lipids (fats), other metabolic substances, and proteins.

What are some common clinical chemistry tests?

The following is a description of some of the most common clinical chemistry tests (used on blood and urine specimens), including some of the uses and indications:

  • Blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels indicate how the body handles glucose. Measuring glucose levels after fasting can help diagnose diabetes or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

  • Electrolytes may include sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Measuring electrolytes can specifically indicate certain metabolic and kidney disorders.

  • Enzymes are released into the blood by organs that are damaged or diseased. The type of enzyme released can indicate which organ is affected:

Enzyme

Organ affected

Creatine kinase

Can signal heart damage from heart attack or other problem

Alanine aminotransferase (AAT, SGOT), aspartate or aminotransferase (AST, SGPT)

Can signal liver disorders and bone diseases

Amylase and lipase

Can signal inflammation or cancer of the pancreas

  • Hormones are secreted by the various endocrine glands. Raised or lowered levels of certain hormones can indicate over- or under-activity of those glands:

Hormone

Gland Affected

Cortisol

adrenal glands

Thyroxine (T4), TSH

thyroid gland

FSH, ACTH, growth hormones

pituitary gland

  • Lipids are fatty substances such as triglycerides (body fat), phospholipids (part of cell membranes), and sterols (such as cholesterol). Lipids can help signal coronary heart disease and liver disease:

Lipid

Organ affected

Cholesterol

Can signal risk for coronary heart disease

High-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol)

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol)

Can estimate risk for coronary heart disease

Triglycerides

Together with levels of cholesterol, this lipid can help indicate risk for coronary heart disease

  • Other metabolic substances can be measured to evaluate organ function:

Metabolic product

Organ affected

BUN (blood urea nitrogen)

Kidney function

Uric acid

Can signal gout, kidney disease, and other tissue damage

  • Proteins can indicate metabolic and nutritional disorders, as well as certain cancers:

Protein

Organ affected

Albumin

Can signal liver or kidney disease, or malnutrition

Globulins

Can signal infection, inflammation, and certain blood cancers