Basic Metabolic Panel (BMP) Test: Purpose and What the Results Mean

Medically Reviewed By Darragh O'Carroll, MD
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A basic metabolic panel measures eight different substances to assess your body’s chemical balance and metabolism. It is often done as part of a routine annual exam or if your doctor is assessing certain medical conditions. In general, a basic metabolic panel measures glucose, calcium, electrolytes, and waste products found in blood.

This article covers what a BMP test is, the expected ranges for each test, and what it means if one or more of the tests is low or high.

What is a basic metabolic panel (BMP) test?

Person getting blood drawn
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A basic metabolic panel (BMP) is a group of tests that provides information about chemical balance and metabolism. Metabolism is how your body converts food into energy. A BMP test measures these eight different substances:

  • Glucose: This type of sugar is your body’s main source of energy.
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): Nitrogen in blood comes from the waste product, urea. This test checks kidney function by measuring the amount of urea nitrogen in the blood.
  • Calcium: This important mineral is essential for nerves, muscles, and the heart to function properly.
  • Carbon dioxide: This gaseous waste product acts as a buffer. It keeps the pH balance of the blood from becoming too acidic or too basic.
  • Chloride: This electrolyte helps maintain proper blood volume, blood pressure, and pH balance.
  • Creatinine: This test provides insight into how well kidneys are working to remove waste. Creatinine is a waste product found in blood. The creatinine test is a primary predictor of kidney function.
  • Potassium: This electrolyte is a mineral that plays a role in balancing fluid levels. It also helps with the proper function of nerves and muscles.
  • Sodium: This electrolyte helps keep the body’s balance of water and electrolytes in check. It also plays a role in how nerves and muscles work.

Why do doctors request a basic metabolic panel (BMP) test?

Doctors check BMP levels as part of an annual physical exam. They may also use them to monitor certain conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease.

Doctors may request a BMP test in emergency situations such as trauma or heart attack.

The BMP test is helpful in assessing different body functions and processes including:

  • kidney and liver function
  • heart health
  • blood sugar levels
  • metabolism
  • acid and base balance (pH balance)
  • fluid and electrolyte balance

What to expect with a basic metabolic panel (BMP) test?

A BMP test is done by a simple blood draw in a lab and typically only takes five minutes. You do not have to do anything special to prepare. If you are having a BMP done along with other tests, your doctor may ask you to fast (not eat or drink) for 8 hours before the test.

A lab technician will draw a small amount of blood by inserting a small needle into a vein in your arm. 

The blood sample will be taken to the lab and your BMP level will be measured. You can expect your results back within 24–48 hours. In emergency settings, test results take 1–2 hours.

What do the results mean?

The expected ranges for these eight tests depend on factors such as age, sex, test method, and the laboratory performing the tests. The test results report will show the expected normal ranges for the specific laboratory.

Doctors are familiar with the expected laboratory test ranges for the laboratory they use. Your doctor will discuss your results with you considering your health history and reason for having the test.

If any components of your BMP levels fall outside the expected range, your doctor may repeat the test. This will help them confirm the result or order additional blood tests.

BMP results outside the expected range may indicate a number of different medical conditions. Each component of the BMP indicates different conditions depending on whether the level is high or low.

The following sections provide an overview of the expected ranges of each part of the BMP. They also explain what high or low levels mean.

Blood glucose test

The expected blood glucose range while fasting is 70–99 mg/dL. Glucose is a type of sugar the body uses for energy. The hormone insulin helps metabolize glucose into your cells.

The blood glucose test can look for, monitor, or diagnose a handful of conditions. These include diabetes, hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, and hyperglycemia or high blood sugar.

What high blood glucose means

High glucose values may indicate diabetes. Your doctor will use certain criteria to evaluate whether you have diabetes based on your glucose level.

Other causes of high glucose levels include:

  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • heart attack
  • severe stress
  • stroke
  • certain medications, such as corticosteroids
  • excess production of growth hormone, or acromegaly

What low blood glucose means

Causes of low blood glucose include:

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test

The expected urea nitrogen range is 8–20 mg/dL. Urea nitrogen is a waste product your body produces. The kidneys are responsible for filtering urea nitrogen from the blood and removing it through urine.

What high blood nitrogen means

Causes of high BUN levels include:

What low blood nitrogen means

Causes of low BUN levels include:

Calcium blood test

The expected blood calcium range is 8.6–10.2 mg/dL. Calcium is a key mineral for many body functions. A proper calcium level is important for muscles, nerves, and heart function as well as bone and dental health.

What high blood calcium means

Causes of high levels of calcium include:

What low blood calcium means

Causes of low levels of calcium include:

  • high levels of phosphate in the blood
  • hypoalbuminemia
  • hypoparathyroidism
  • malnutrition
  • osteomalacia
  • rickets

Carbon dioxide blood test

The expected carbon dioxide blood level range is 23–30 mmol/L. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a waste product in the form of a gas that the body removes by exhaling. Levels outside the expected range can signal electrolyte imbalances or possible diseases of the kidneys or lungs.

What high blood carbon dioxide means

Causes of high levels of carbon dioxide include:

  • anorexia
  • blood transfusions
  • COPD
  • Conn’s syndrome
  • Cushing’s disease
  • dehydration
  • heart disease
  • pulmonary edema
  • vomiting
  • overuse of antacids or other medications containing bicarbonate

What low blood carbon dioxide means

Causes of low levels of carbon dioxide include:

Chloride blood test

The expected chloride blood level range is 98–106 mEq/L. Chloride is an electrolyte that helps control fluid levels and pH balance in the body. Along with other electrolytes, chloride levels provide insight into high blood pressure, and disease of the heart, liver, and kidneys.

What high blood chloride means

Causes of high chloride levels include:

  • consuming too much salt
  • dehydration
  • hyperparathyroidism
  • kidney disease

What low blood chloride means

Causes of low levels of chloride include:

  • Addison’s disease
  • heart failure
  • metabolic alkalosis
  • severe vomiting
  • syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH)

Creatinine blood test

The expected creatinine blood ranges are 0.5–1.1 mg/dL in females and 0.7–1.3 mg/dL in males. Muscles produce this waste product during regular activity. The kidneys are responsible for removing creatinine in urine.

What high blood creatinine means

Causes of high creatinine levels include:

What low blood creatinine means

Causes of low creatinine levels include:

  • muscular dystrophy
  • lower muscle mass with advanced aging
  • severe liver disease
  • pregnancy
  • a diet low in protein

Potassium blood test

The expected potassium blood level range is 3.5–5.0 mEq/L. Potassium is an electrolyte that plays a role in several bodily functions. These include maintaining proper fluid volume, controlling nerve and muscle activity, and helping muscles including the heart function properly.

What high blood potassium means

Causes of high levels of potassium include:

  • diabetic ketoacidosis
  • excess potassium supplements
  • heart attack
  • high acid, or pH, in the blood
  • kidney damage
  • severe burns
  • certain medications, such as aldosterone antagonists and ACE inhibitors

What low blood potassium means

Causes of low levels of potassium include:

  • alcohol use disorder
  • cystic fibrosis
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • dehydration
  • hyperaldosteronism
  • kidney disease
  • malnutrition
  • severe burns
  • severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • certain medications, such as diuretics

Sodium blood test

The expected sodium blood level range is 136–145 mEq/L. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps control fluid volume and blood pH levels. If sodium levels are high or low it may indicate kidney problems.

What high blood sodium means

Causes of high levels of sodium, or hypernatremia, include:

What low blood sodium means

Causes of low levels of sodium, or hyponatremia, include:

  • burns
  • cirrhosis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • drinking too much water
  • excessive sweating
  • heart failure
  • kidney disease
  • poor nutrition
  • severe diarrhea or vomiting
  • syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion (SIADH)
  • underactive adrenal or thyroid glands

How does the BMP test differ from the comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP)?

A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) is a similar type of test. It is sometimes done in conjunction with a basic metabolic panel. A CMP contains all the eight measures that a BMP does, plus six more tests to measure proteins and liver enzymes.

Like a BMP test, a CMP is also used to check the body’s chemical balance and metabolism. The additional tests in a CMP include:

  • albumin
  • total protein
  • ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • ALT (alanine transaminase)
  • AST (aspartate aminotransferase)
  • bilirubin

What are the risks of having a basic metabolic panel (BMP) test?

There is minimal risk to having a BMP test. You may feel a mild pinch when the needle is inserted in your arm and may have some minor bleeding afterward. If you have excessive bleeding or develop a large bruise on your arm, notify your doctor right away.

Summary

A basic metabolic panel measures the body’s electrolyte balance and metabolism. It tests for eight different substances related to different bodily functions. These indicate whether your kidneys are functioning properly, your electrolytes are in balance, and your acid and base levels are balanced.

Doctors check a BMP as part of a routine annual exam. They may also use it to assess for certain conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease.

If one or more of the components of the BMP is low or high, it could indicate an underlying medical condition. Your doctor may repeat the test or order additional blood work if your results are out of range.

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Medical Reviewer: Darragh O'Carroll, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 26
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