I. Introduction

A BMP gives a doctor insight into how different chemical processes are functioning in the body. It’s often used as part of a routine medical examination or to help diagnose a medical condition.

This guide provides a description of metabolism and the eight blood tests included in a basic metabolic panel. It also gives information about why the panel might be needed, what’s considered a normal range of results, and what the test can tell your doctor.

II. Overview of a Basic Metabolic Panel

Why should I get tested?

The purpose of a basic metabolic panel is to determine:

  • Overall kidney function
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Electrolyte levels
  • Acid/base balance

A BMP consists of eight separate blood tests that measure the levels of certain substances in your bloodstream:

  • Blood urea nitrogen
  • Creatinine
  • Glucose
  • Carbon dioxide (bicarbonate)
  • Chloride
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Calcium

Doctors may recommend a BMP to determine how different metabolic processes are functioning in your body and to detect chemical imbalances. A BMP can also suggest whether further tests are required to investigate possible health issues.

When should I get tested?

Your doctor may recommend a BMP:

  • As part of a routine physical examination
  • As part of a workup to diagnose a health problem
  • To see if any medications that you take, such as diuretics, are affecting your kidneys or electrolytes
  • If you’re admitted to an emergency department
  • If you’re hospitalized

What is required for the test?

A BMP requires you to visit a clinic or laboratory to have a blood sample drawn for analysis.

The clinician can obtain a sufficient sample in one visit for all eight individual blood tests that are part of a BMP.

What do I need to do to prepare for the test?

You may be asked to fast for 8 to 12 hours before a BMP to obtain the most accurate results. It’s important to follow any instructions that you’re given. Fasting isn’t required if the test is performed in an emergency visit or urgent care.

Advise your clinician of any medication, vitamins, or supplements that you’re taking, as these may affect your results.

III. The Basics of Metabolism

What is metabolism?

Metabolism refers to a series of complex chemical processes in the body. This involves converting food into energy at a cellular level and using that energy to help our bodies function and grow. These processes include:

  • Breathing
  • Blood circulation
  • Body temperature regulation
  • Digestion
  • Waste elimination
  • Brain, nerve, and muscle function

How does metabolism work?

The food we eat is broken down by the digestive system into amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars, which are then carried to cells through the bloodstream. These compounds are metabolized, and energy is either used immediately by the body or stored in tissues, muscles, liver, and body fat.

A metabolic disorder results when some chemical processes are not functioning properly, such as:

  • The way the body breaks down proteins, carbohydrates, or fats
  • Energy production in the cells
  • Organ function, including the lungs, liver, kidneys, or pancreas

When metabolism is disrupted, there may be too much or too little of certain substances in the body, such as those measured by a basic metabolic panel. For example:

  • The pancreas releases insulin to help manage glucose levels. If this process is disrupted, there’s too much glucose in the blood, potentially leading to diabetes.
  • The lungs help to maintain the body’s acid/base balance. If the lungs are unable to eliminate enough carbon dioxide, the body’s acidity increases, possibly leading to chest muscle weakness or lung disease.

IV. How a Basic Metabolic Panel Works

A basic metabolic panel is a series of eight blood tests measuring blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, glucose, carbon dioxide (bicarbonate), chloride, potassium, sodium, and calcium. It’s also known as an electrolyte panel, chemistry panel, or informally as a chem 8.

A BMP provides an overview of your body’s metabolism, including kidney health, blood glucose levels, electrolyte levels, and acid/base balance.

Kidney health

The kidneys filter chemical waste products through urine to help balance levels of salt, minerals, and water in the body. A BMP measures levels of two of these waste products in the bloodstream.

  • Blood urea nitrogen forms when the liver breaks down proteins used by cells into ammonia. The nitrogen from the ammonia combines with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements to form urea.
  • Creatinine is a waste product of muscle metabolism and high-protein diets.

Abnormal levels of urea nitrogen or creatinine in the kidneys can indicate problems with muscle, liver, or kidney function.

Creatinine test results can also be used to calculate an estimated glomerular filtration rate, which provides information on how well your kidneys are filtering waste.

Glucose levels

Levels of glucose in the body provide insight into kidney, thyroid, liver, and pancreatic health. Glucose is a simple sugar that forms when carbohydrates are broken down by the intestine to create fuel for cells. This energy source is carried to cells through the bloodstream.

Cells need a steady and constant level of glucose to function. Elevated glucose levels may be a sign of diabetes, kidney disease, pancreatitis, or hyperthyroidism. Low levels of glucose may indicate hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, or liver disease.

Electrolyte levels

Electrolytes are minerals that help to regulate the body’s fluid levels and acid-base balance. Minerals are consumed in our diet and keep the nerves, heart, muscles, and brain functioning properly. They also help to move nutrients and wastes through the body.

A BMP measures the amount of sodium, potassium, carbon dioxide, chloride, and calcium in the bloodstream. Other electrolytes found in the body but not included in a BMP include phosphate and magnesium.

An acid-base imbalance occurs when electrolyte levels become too high or too low. Abnormal levels may indicate heart disease, kidney disease, or dehydration.

  • Sodium is important for nerve and muscle function. Any excess in the body is removed by the kidneys through urine. Abnormal levels of sodium in your blood may indicate hypernatremia (too much sodium) or hyponatremia (too little sodium), which can suggest potential health problems.
  • Potassium is necessary to help the heart and muscles function properly and to maintain the body’s fluid levels. Too much potassium is known as hyperkalemia and too little potassium as hypokalemia. These conditions may indicate high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart problems.
  • The oxygen that we breathe is exchanged in our bodies for carbon dioxide. The lungs exhale this waste gas. Levels of carbon dioxide in the body can indicate how well the lungs and kidneys are working and whether there’s an imbalance in the body’s electrolytes.
  • Chloride is important for pH balance and can indicate how your body is managing fluids. Factors affecting chloride levels can include medication, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, further testing may be required.

Calcium is essential for blood clotting, bone formation, and cell, muscle, nerve, and heart function. Most of the calcium in the body is stored in the bones, with about 1% in the bloodstream. Elevated or decreased calcium levels in the blood may result from diet, although in some cases, it may indicate a hormone imbalance or problems with the kidneys, bones, thyroid, or pancreas. A BMP measures only total calcium, which is calcium that is bound to proteins, not ionized calcium.

How a basic metabolic panel is performed

A BMP requires a sample of your blood for analysis. A health practitioner typically draws a sample from your inside forearm near the elbow.

  • The puncture site is cleaned and disinfected with an alcohol swab.
  • An elastic band is tied on the upper arm to increase blood flow to the vein.
  • A small needle is inserted into the vein to draw blood into a tube.
  • The elastic band and needle are removed.
  • Gentle pressure is applied, and a small bandage placed on the puncture site.
  • The blood sample is sent for testing.

Babies who require a BMP may have blood drawn from their heel with a tiny lancet or needle.

Your doctor can request a basic metabolic panel during a routine wellness exam or if there are concerns about your health. You may also order a BMP directly from some websites.

V. Treatment for Metabolic Disorders and Other Conditions

If your physician is concerned about any of the results of your blood tests, you may need further tests before a diagnosis can be confirmed. Many factors can lead to results that are outside of a normal range on one or more of your BMP blood tests, including:

  • Side effects of medication
  • Diabetes or complications from diabetes
  • Problems with kidney, liver, or lungs
  • Dehydration
  • Metabolic disorders

When a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor can recommend a specific plan of treatment.

VI. FAQs

What tests are included in a BMP?

A BMP measures the levels of blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, glucose, carbon dioxide, chloride, potassium, sodium, and calcium in your body.

How long does it take to get the results of a BMP?

BMPs are processed by a machine. The results may be available within hours at a hospital emergency department or within one to two days, depending on the laboratory.

What are normal results for a BMP?

While the range of results considered normal varies by laboratory, the following are typical reference ranges for a BMP, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

  • Blood urea nitrogen: 6 to 20 mg/dL (2.14 to 7.14 mmol/L)
  • Creatinine: 0.8 to 1.2 mg/dL (70.72 to 106.08 micromol/L)
  • Glucose: 64 to 100 mg/dL (3.55 to 5.55 mmol/L)
  • Carbon dioxide: 23 to 29 mmol/L
  • Chloride: 96 to 106 mmol/L
  • Potassium: 3.7 to 5.2 mEq/L (3.7 to 5.2 mmol/L)
  • Sodium: 136 to 144 mEq/L (136 to 144 mmol/L)
  • Calcium: 8.5 to 10.2 mg/dL (2.13 to 2.55 millimol/L)

It is best to review your test results with a physician. Factors such as your gender, age, medical history, and medications you are taking must be considered when determining if your results are significant.

Can I order a BMP online?

You can order a BMP directly from some websites by selecting the type of test and the lab at which you would like it performed. Once you have completed your order, you will receive instructions on preparing for the test and a requisition that you take with you to a laboratory. Test results are typically accessed on a website when available.

What type of glucose test is included in a BMP?

There are different types of glucose tests. The BMP typically includes a fasting glucose test, which requires you to not eat or drink for 8 to 12 hours prior to the blood draw.

Other glucose tests that may be done separately include a random glucose test, which is taken at any time of day, and an oral glucose tolerance test, which is taken one to two hours after consuming a sugary glucose drink.

How is a BMP different from a comprehensive metabolic panel?

The comprehensive metabolic panel includes 14 tests: all of the tests from a BMP and additional tests for proteins and liver enzymes. A CMP provides a more complete look at organ function and can help diagnose diabetes, liver, and kidney disease.

The additional tests include:

  • Albumin
  • Total protein
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • Bilirubin

VII. Additional Resources

To learn more about conditions and body functions related to the tests of a basic metabolic panel, use the following resources.

NameWebsiteSummary
American Diabetes Associationwww.diabetes.orgInformation on diabetes
American Lung Associationwww.lung.orgInformation on how the lungs work
U.S. Department of Healthwww.niddk.nih.govInformation on how the kidneys work
Merck Manualwww.merckmanuals.comAn overview of how electrolytes work

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