How to Know if You Need a Vitamin D Test

Vitamin D is one of the important vitamins our bodies need to be healthy. It promotes healthy bone growth and can reduce inflammation, according to the National Institutes of Health*. 

It occurs naturally in some foods and is added to others such as milk and is available as a dietary supplement. You can also get vitamin D naturally from the sun. 

Low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of broken bones. It can also be a factor in other health conditions. For these reasons, many doctors will order tests to measure vitamin D. 

In generally healthy people, a vitamin D deficiency can be treated with an over-the-counter supplement. The testing is unnecessary, says Dr. Lloyd Kapp, a medical director with BlueChoice® HealthPlan. This is why doctors do not generally recommend testing for vitamin D deficiencies**.

If you are high risk, get the test, Kapp says. If not, ask your doctor if you can boost your vitamin D with sun exposure, food and supplements before having the test. 

“In general, healthy people don’t need to be tested for vitamin D deficiency. Everyone can take vitamin D supplements, get safe amounts of limited sun exposure, and they should have adequate vitamin D levels in their systems,” Kapp says. 

Even if you are at risk for other diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, a vitamin D test usually isn’t helpful, according to Choosing Wisely*.

The tests are typically ordered routinely as a part of a general screening. But these tests can lead to extra treatment and extra costs. Patients should know that these tests are not free. 

Up to 90 percent of vitamin D tests may be clinically useless, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association*. This means that the findings were not necessary to guide care. 

In South Carolina, based on extrapolated claims data 39 percent of vitamin D tests in 2017 were likely unnecessary. 

Individuals with kidney disease, osteoporosis or other health conditions may need to have a vitamin D test as they are considered higher risk for vitamin D issues. A list of high-risk conditions or concerns can be found here. Patients should talk with their doctor about their individual risks. 

If your doctor orders a vitamin D test, ask why, Kapp recommends. 

“Bring it up and discuss it with your doctor. Is it necessary?” he says. “This doesn’t mean that you never need a vitamin D test. It just means that you should take a thoughtful approach to your own health care overall and fully discuss your care with your doctor.”

If you are unsure what else to ask your doctor before any medical test or treatment, find helpful insight here.

You can find more recommendations about vitamin D testing here.

This article contains links to third party sites. Those organizations are solely responsible for the privacy policies and contents of their sites.

*These are independent organizations that offer health information that you may find helpful.
**This recommendation comes from the American Society for Clinical Pathology.  


Dec. 12, 2019

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