Full blood count (FBC)

Also known as complete blood count (CBC), full blood picture or full blood examination

The full blood count (FBC) is a common test that provides important information about the kinds and numbers of cells in your blood. It is used to check your general health and to help diagnose and monitor a variety of conditions and treatments.

What is an FBC test?

An FBC is a commonly ordered blood test in which a blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm and collected in a tube. This tube is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

Results of an FBC give information about the 3 main types of cells contained in your blood. These are:

  • red blood cells
  • white blood cells
  • platelets. 

The FBC test is important for diagnosing conditions in which the number of blood cells is abnormally high or abnormally low, or the cells themselves are abnormal.

When is an FBC test done?

An FBC test may be requested as a routine blood test to find out about your general health. It may also be used to help with diagnosis and monitoring of different conditions and treatments. An FBC can be used to:

  • investigate deficiencies such as vitamin B12 or folate deficiency or iron deficiency anaemia
  • help diagnose infection
  • help diagnose blood disorders 
  • monitor the response to some types of medication or radiation treatment
  • investigate abnormal bleeding or clotting.

How do I prepare for an FBC test?

You do not need to do anything before having this test.

How is the sample collected for an FBC test?

A blood sample is taken by a needle placed in a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight for a few seconds. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a small brief sting or pinch. The blood sample is collected in a tube, which is sent to the laboratory for analysis. Read more about blood tests.

What do the results of my FBC test mean?

Interpreting blood test results is not always easy and is best done in consultation with your healthcare team. They will know what is normal for you and how these results tie in with your overall health. If there is a mild abnormality, all that may be needed is to repeat the test in a month or two, because many changes can be temporary and return to normal.

Reference ranges

Your results will be reported with reference ranges beside each of your results. These provide upper and lower limit values. These values or intervals are regarded as normal ranges or limits. They are calculated based on the population being tested and the equipment used to do the test.

Reference ranges are therefore determined by each medical testing laboratory and may vary from laboratory to laboratory. This means you need to interpret your results with your healthcare provider using the values provided by the testing laboratory.

Can FBC test results provide a diagnosis of a condition?

On its own, FBC test results cannot usually provide a definitive diagnosis of a condition, but they can provide important clues about possible problems with your health.

  • Low haemoglobin indicates anaemia, which has a number of possible causes, including iron deficiency, internal bleeding or a poor diet.
  • High haemoglobin may be caused by an underlying lung disease or problems with your bone marrow.
  • A low white blood cell count may be genetic and of no significance, but could also be caused by problems with your bone marrow, or a viral infection.
  • A high white blood cell count is usually suggestive of an infection somewhere in your body; however, rarely it can be a sign of more serious illness.
  • A low platelet count may be caused by a viral infection or an autoimmune condition (where your immune system attacks healthy tissue).
  • A high platelet count may be caused by inflammatory conditions, infection or a problem with your bone marrow.

Learn more

The following is further reading that gives you more information on the full blood count test. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Blood test safety information Labtests NZ
Full blood count and blood smear Patient Info, UK
Lab tests online  Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Gwenda Lawrence, medical laboratory scientist, Auckland Last reviewed: 11 Dec 2018