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An Overview of the Albumin Laboratory Test

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Diana Cooper•updated: 1/17/2011

Has your doctor recommended you have an albumin laboratory test? Here we will explore the purpose and results, as well as other important information.

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    The albumin laboratory test may be performed to monitor the patient's health status and any changes in it, to help diagnose a disease or condition, as a screen to help determine if other testing is necessary, and to assess disease progression or effectiveness of a treatment method. Also, known as ALB, this test may be ordered along with other tests, such as microalbumin, liver panel, prealbumin, or a urinalysis. It is beneficial to patients to understand why this test is ordered and what the results may indicate.

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    Why is It Performed?

    This blood test may be ordered when a patient is showing jaundice, weight loss, fatigue, or other signs and symptoms of a liver disorder. It may also be done when the patient is experiencing swelling around the belly, legs, eyes, or other signs and symptoms of nephrotic syndrome.

    If malnutrition or protein deficiencies are suspected, this test may be ordered. To evaluate a patient's kidney function or nutritional status this test can be helpful. Doctors may order this test along with other tests, such as a blood urea nitrogen test, a creatinine test, and a prealbumin test.

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    Preparation and Procedure

    No preparation is necessary for the albumin laboratory test. Venipuncture is the procedure used to obtain a blood sample. A health care provider will use a needle and insert it into the patient's vein. They will allow enough blood for testing to collect into an airtight vial. The needle is removed and the test is done. Most patients report no pain with this test, but in uncommon cases, discomfort and pain are possible.

    Albumin is a protein found in plasma, and is the most abundant protein found in the blood's fluid portion. This crucial protein is responsible for nourishing tissues, preventing fluid from seeping from blood vessels, and transporting vitamins, ions, hormones, and drugs throughout the body.

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    Results

    If the levels of albumin are determined to be high it may indicate dehydration, but this test is not usually done to detect or monitor dehydration. High levels may also be seen in those using androgens, insulin, anabolic steroids, and growth hormones.

    Low levels of albumin may indicate liver disease. The exact type cannot be determined with this test, however, so doctors will have other enzyme testing done to determine this. Kidney diseases may cause low levels as well. If a kidney disease is suspected, a microalbumin test may be done to determine how much protein or albumin is in the urine.

    Other conditions that may cause low albumin levels include shock, inflammation, malnutrition, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, and other conditions characterized by the body not digesting or absorbing protein properly.

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    Resources

    Lab Tests Online. (2009). Albumin. Retrieved on January 11, 2011 from Lab Tests Online: http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/albumin/test.html

    Mayo Clinic. (2010). Liver Function Tests. Retrieved on January 11, 2011 from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/liver-function-tests/MY00093