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Tom Morrison

Wolfram|Alpha Medical Test Data

December 8, 2009 —
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One of Wolfram|Alpha’s primary sources for medical test data is the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), an annual survey of thousands of people, from throughout the United States, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Wolfram|Alpha’s presentation of this data is unique in that it doesn’t just report reference ranges, but allows you to see where your own measurements and test numbers fall within the survey’s distribution of results. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give advice, medical or otherwise.)

At the most basic level, an input of “cholesterol test” returns the survey’s distribution of total cholesterol values:
Wolfram|Alpha computes cholesterol test data

If you add your own test results, e.g., “cholesterol test 160,” Wolfram|Alpha creates a plot line marking your test results within the overall distribution:
Wolfram|Alpha provides reference data for cholesterol test results

You can fine-tune the results even more by adding additional personal attributes. For example, entering “cholesterol tests age 65” filters the general population distribution to return only values from individuals 60–70 years old:
Wolfram|Alpha computes cholesterol test values for an individual age 65

By adding more filters such as smoking status, diabetic status, pregnancy status, and other individual characteristics, you can find out more about how your test results compare to other populations covered by NHANES.

For physicians, Wolfram|Alpha an be a useful aid in explaining test results, making it easy to visualize how a patient’s test values compare not only to the general population, but more importantly, to specific subpopulations. For example, describing a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level of 150 as “higher than normal” may or may not influence a patient to make changes to improve their health:
Wolfram|Alpha computes cholesterol test data for specific sub-populations

When the same patient’s value is shown to be higher than the average for a population composed entirely of smokers or morbidly obese individuals, or obese smokers, the visualization of those test results may have a greater impact.

Wolfram|Alpha’s medical test data also serves as an excellent ready reference for anyone interested in general health issues in the U.S., or in understanding the relative health risks confronted by people with different lifestyle habits or physical characteristics. For example, simple queries can highlight the difference in reference ranges between men and women for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels or other blood constituents, such as serum sodium.

These examples demonstrate just a few ways you can use Wolfram|Alpha as a resource to help assess your own health, and to better understand the significance of medical test results. We welcome your suggestions and requests for additional data, and encourage you to check back periodically for new and improved features. If you are interested in contributing to Wolfram|Alpha’s medical data, we encourage you to join our growing team of advisers, experts, and volunteer curators.


While it is very interesting that this information is available, I often don’t understand what w|a is capable of and what it isn’t.
After trying the example “HDL cholesterol men vs HDL cholesterol women” I wondered how much difference there was between smokers, obese people and the general population.
Unfortunately, various attempts failed, even though the individual parameters were giving results.
I tried “LDL cholesterol smokers vs LDL cholesterol non-smokers” for example, but also other combinations.

Also, while it is interesting to see how you score compared to ‘average’, data is still missing to see if this actually is a bad thing (for example a correlation with life expectancy would be very interesting)

Posted by Adion December 8, 2009 at 5:40 pm

As a high school student: dang. Very clean web design, very understandable data.

Posted by Tony December 9, 2009 at 12:43 am

i think so too… it is very clear and understandable

Posted by Fitness-Fan December 14, 2009 at 10:16 am