What does a serum albumin test tell you?
Albumin is one of the most abundant proteins found in the blood. The liver releases albumin as part of its normal functioning.
Albumin maintains the fluid balance in the body. It helps prevent the blood vessels from leaking too much. Albumin also has a role in repairing tissue and helping the body grow while transporting vital hormones and nutrients around.
People are at a higher risk for abnormal levels of albumin if they have an open wound or burn or following surgery.
Why is the test done?
A serum albumin test can help to diagnose liver problems.
A healthy liver transforms the protein a person ingests into albumin. When the liver is not functioning correctly, this process decreases and may lead to a drop in albumin levels.
A doctor will often request a serum albumin test as part of a metabolic panel. A metabolic panel involves several tests that check the levels of:
- blood urea nitrogen
A doctor will typically administer a serum albumin test if symptoms of liver disease or other liver problems are present. They may order a test when one or more of the following symptoms are present:
- unexpected weight loss
- swelling around the stomach, eyes, or legs
- jaundice, causing yellowing of the skin and eyes
- unexplained fatigue
A doctor may use the serum albumin test in other cases to monitor existing conditions, such as kidney disease or chronic pancreatitis. When used to check on these conditions, the test helps a doctor determine if treatment is progressing.
Preparation for the test
Insulin can affect the results of a serum albumin test.
A serum albumin test does not usually require people to fast. There are, however, certain medications that may skew the results of the test.
Medications that people may need to reduce the dose of or stop taking altogether before a serum albumin test include:
- anabolic steroids
- growth hormones
People should speak to their doctor before altering doses or stopping any medication altogether. Similarly, they should inform their doctor of any medications they are taking.
A doctor will determine if a person needs to change their medications temporarily.
What is the procedure?
A doctor will order a blood test, which will include a serum albumin element.
When a person goes to get the blood test, they will sit in a chair, and a technician will tie an elastic band around their upper arm. The pressure will expose the veins and fill them with blood.
After cleaning the area of skin with an alcohol wipe, the technician will insert a small needle into one of the visible veins. They will then draw blood into one or more vials. Once collected, the blood is marked and sent to the lab where they carry out the analysis
What the results mean
A doctor can explain the results of the serum albumin test.
Since the serum albumin test is often one of several tests administered at any one time, a doctor will interpret all the results together to determine if any underlying conditions exist.
Typically, the range for albumin in the blood is between 3.4 to 5.4 grams per deciliter.
When a person's levels are found to be lower than the average range, it could indicate conditions, such as:
- Crohn's disease
- liver disease
- celiac disease
- poor nutrition
- nephritic or nephrotic syndrome
A doctor may order additional tests if they suspect liver disease to determine what type of disease is present.
Some possible types include:
- hepatocellular necrosis
If albumin levels are found to be too high, it may indicate a person is eating a high protein diet or is dehydrated.
When results come back, a doctor will review them with the person and explain the results. Normal levels may vary between labs. A doctor will be able to interpret the results to determine if the results fall within a normal range.
Are there any risks from the test?
The serum albumin test requires only a small amount of blood. It is typically considered a low-risk procedure, as a result. Some people may experience some bruising and discoloration of the skin at the injection site.
Some side effects may include:
- feeling faint
- excessive blood loss
- blood pooling under the skin
- infection at the puncture site
People with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk of developing an adverse reaction. A doctor should be particularly aware of any condition that may cause excessive bleeding, such as a clotting disorder. Blood thinner medication also increases risks of excessive bleeding.
If someone is asked to have a serum albumin test, their doctor may suspects an underlying issue. If the results come back showing low levels of albumin in the sample, a person will probably need further tests to determine the cause.
Once a cause is determined, doctors can often prescribe treatment. A person will not need any further tests when their blood albumin has returned to the correct level.