Low albumin levels (hypoalbuminemia) mean that there is a low level of albumin, a type of protein, in the blood. Numerous conditions can cause low albumin levels, with a range of symptoms depending on the underlying cause.

Albumin binds substances, including hormones and some drugs, to help them travel through the body.

As the main protein in blood plasma, albumin plays a role in many functions, including maintaining pressure in the blood vessels and transporting substances, such as hormones and medications.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of low albumin. This article also looks at causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

Midsection Of Doctor Holding Medical EquipmentShare on Pinterest
Mauricio Garcia Bazilio/EyeEm/Getty Images

Symptoms of low albumin typically depend on the underlying cause. If low albumin is due to kidney disease, a person may experience symptoms such as:

If low albumin is the result of liver disease, symptoms can include:

In adults, albumin concentration is typically between 35 and 50 grams per liter (g/L). Albumin levels below 35 g/L indicate low albumin levels.

A range of conditions can cause hypoalbuminemia. Determining the cause of hypoalbuminemia is vital for effective treatment.

Possible causes of low albumin levels include:

  • Liver failure: The liver manufactures albumin. Albumin tests are often a part of liver-functioning checks. Many conditions can cause liver failure, including:
  • Kidney disease: Problems with the kidneys may cause them to release large amounts of protein into the urine. This can take albumin from the blood, leading to hypoalbuminemia.
  • Heart failure: Some people with heart failure develop low albumin levels. This usually happens in combination with other factors such as malnutrition, liver dysfunction, and inflammation. Hypoalbuminemia with heart failure is more likely to develop in older adults.
  • Protein-losing enteropathy: Some stomach and gastrointestinal conditions, including celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), can cause the digestive system to lose a lot of protein. This causes a syndrome called protein-losing enteropathy, which can lead to low albumin levels.
  • Malnutrition: People may develop hypoalbuminemia when they do not eat enough key nutrients, or if medical conditions make it hard for their bodies to absorb nutrients.
  • Burns: Having a burn or burns over a large area of the body can result in low albumin levels.
  • Sepsis: Sepsis is a blood infection that can cause low albumin levels. Albumin levels may indicate outcomes from sepsis, but more research is necessary.

A doctor can detect low albumin levels with an albumin blood test.

A person may require an albumin blood test as part of a routine health check. Doctors may also order the blood test if they suspect problems with the kidney or liver.

Treatment for low albumin typically involves addressing the underlying cause.

Treatments will therefore usually depend on the condition. For example, a doctor may recommend lifestyle changes and medications for cirrhosis of the liver. Treatments for kidney disease can include dietary changes and medications such as ACE inhibitors and ARBS.

In some cases, a person may require intravenous albumin to raise their levels. This may be particularly beneficial for people with severe burns.

Consuming foods high in protein may help reduce the likelihood of low albumin levels.

Examples include:

It is important to note that low albumin levels may occur in people who eat enough protein. Some underlying conditions can make it difficult to absorb and use albumin and other nutrients.

Possible complications of very low albumin levels include:

  • problems with circulation
  • swelling in some parts of the body (edema)
  • swelling throughout the body (anasarca)

Complications may also occur as a result of an underlying condition. Addressing the cause of low albumin levels can help reduce the likelihood of complications.

Here are some frequently asked questions about low albumin levels.

Does low albumin mean anemia?

Low albumin levels do not indicate anemia. However, a person may experience both anemia and low albumin levels. This can be due to a shared underlying cause, such as malnutrition or a blood disorder like sickle cell disease.

What vitamin deficiency causes low albumin?

There is insufficient research to suggest that a specific vitamin deficiency can directly cause low albumin levels.

However, malnutrition can cause low albumin. This can happen if a person has a condition that affects the absorption of key nutrients, or if a person does not consume enough nutrients through their diet.

What is the fastest way to increase albumin?

Consuming foods high in protein can help increase albumin levels. It is also important to address the underlying cause. If albumin levels are severely low, they may require an albumin infusion in the hospital in rare cases.

Can low albumin cause death?

Low albumin levels may not directly cause death. However, critical conditions can cause severely low albumin levels. A 2020 study found that low levels of albumin in critically ill individuals at the time of hospital admission was associated with an increased risk of mortality.

Possible causes of low albumin levels include liver failure, kidney disease, heart failure, gastrointestinal conditions, and malnutrition. Sepsis and burns can also lead to low albumin levels.

Symptoms of low albumin can depend on the underlying cause, but may include swelling, itchiness, vomiting, nausea, muscle cramps, and more.

Treatment for low albumin levels typically focuses on addressing the underlying cause. Eating foods high in protein may also help. In severe cases, a person may need to receive albumin intravenously.

A person can contact their doctor if they have concerns about albumin levels or conditions that can lead to hypoalbuminemia. The doctor may order an albumin blood test to determine whether a person has low albumin levels.