What Is an Albumin Test?

What to expect when undergoing this test

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Albumin is a protein that your liver makes and an albumin blood test is used to check your blood for the amount of albumin present. An albumin blood test is also known as serum albumin test.

Learn more about the uses, side effects, procedure, and results of an albumin blood test as well as what the results may indicate about your health.

Purpose of Test

An albumin test may be ordered as part of your regular medical check-up. Your doctor may also order it if he suspects that you may have liver disease or kidney disease.

Some of the symptoms you may be experiencing that could make your doctor suspect you have liver disease and order an albumin test are:

  • Dark urine color
  • Jaundiced (yellowish) eyes and skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling and pain in the abdomen (particularly the upper right part where the liver is located)
  • Swelling of legs, ankles, and feet
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Pale-colored stool

Although kidney disease usually doesn’t have any symptoms until the kidneys are starting to fail, some symptoms you may be having that could make your doctor suspect you have kidney disease and order an albumin test are:

  • Itchy skin
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swelling in ankles and feet
  • A marked increase or decrease in the volume of urine
  • Foamy urine

Lastly, if your doctor suspects that your body is not absorbing enough protein, he/she may order this test.

A similar test is the urine albumin test, in that they both measure albumin and are usually ordered on the suspicion of kidney disease. The urine albumin test, however, measures the amount of albumin in the urine as opposed to the level in the blood. It is also called a microalbumin test.

If your doctor suspects liver disease, he will likely order it with other blood tests that make up what is called liver function tests. Some of these other tests are total protein tets, bilirubin test, and prothrombin time test.

The Role of Albumin in Your System

Albumin is a protein that is synthesized in the liver and is found in the blood. It is the most abundant protein in the plasma (plasma is the liquid component of your blood that carries cells, protein, and other substances around the body). Albumin’s main function is to regulate the volume of blood in the body by exerting oncotic pressure in blood vessels.

Oncotic pressure (also known as colloid osmotic pressure) is a kind of pressure that proteins use to pull and keep fluid in your blood to prevent it from entering other tissues. Albumin also helps to move molecules and substances—like calcium and medicines—around the body

The presence or lack of albumin also helps doctors assess liver and kidney function.

Risks and Contraindications

An albumin blood test, as with all other blood tests, doesn’t have any contraindications or any serious risks.

Before the Test

You can expect your doctor to ask you about your personal medical history and about your family medical history. If you are taking any medications, you should tell your doctor, as certain drugs can interfere with the amount of albumin in your blood

If you have any pre-existing conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, which put you at higher risk of developing liver or kidney disease, you should close them to your doctor. If you are a heavy alcohol user, have numerous tattoos (specifically if you've had a tattoo-related infection), or have previously been exposed to other people's blood, you should inform your doctor as this increases your risk of developing liver disease. You should let your doctor know if you are or could be pregnant.

Timing 

This is a simple blood test so it will only take a few minutes to perform.

Location

The test will take place in the hospital, likely in your doctor's office or in the laboratory of the hospital.

What to Wear

You don’t need to wear any special kind of clothing for this test, so you can dress as you normally would. However, you may want to wear sleeveless clothes or items that the sleeves can be easily rolled up, as blood will be drawn from your arm.

Food and Drink

If you’re only doing an albumin blood test, you don't need to do anything to prepare. However, if your doctor is ordering it along with other tests, he may ask you not to eat or drink anything for some hours before the tests.

During the Test

The doctor, nurse, or whoever is performing the test will insert a needle into your arm. Your blood will be drawn and transferred into the appropriate vile for testing. It might sting a little, and the entire process will be over in one minute or less.

If your veins are hard to find, a tourniquet may be fashioned over it to make them pronounced and visible.

After the Test

You can go home immediately after the test and the doctor or laboratory scientist/technician will let you know when to come back for the results. 

You’ll be able to drive yourself back home or take public transport system. However, if you have a history of dizziness after blood tests, you may want to wait until it passes before heading home.

Managing Side Effects

Blood tests come with a couple of possible side effects, but they’re usually mild and pass within minutes or hours:

  • Slight bruising or swelling at the site of the blood draw
  • A bit of lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Slight stinging

Although these are rare, these side effects are serious and shoud=ld be reported to your doctor immediately

  • Excessive bleeding
  • A Hematoma (a swollen, solid area filled with blood)
  • An infection

Interpreting Results

Normal blood albumin levels are between 3.4 to 5.4 grams per decalitre (g/dL) (or 34 to 54 grams per liter (g/L). Although you should discuss with the laboratory scientist/technician or your doctor to confirm because some labs and hospitals use different metrics and measurements.

What do your results mean?

If you have lower than normal levels of albumin, it could mean you have any of the following:

If you have higher than normal levels of albumin, it could mean:

  • You consume a high protein diet
  • You have severe diarrhea or are dehydrates

Certain medications, procedures, and conditions may affect your albumin levels.

  • Medications. Insulin, growth hormones, steroids, and androgens can increase your albumin levels while birth control can lower them.
  • Being pregnant. This can lower your blood albumin levels.
  • Serious burns. Having serious burns may also produce lower than normal albumin levels (hypoalbuminemia).
  • Drinking too much water. Drinking too much water or receiving intravenous fluids, especially in large quantities, can make your albumin blood test inaccurate.
  • Eating a low protein diet. This could also contribute to a lower than normal amount of albumin in your blood.

Follow-Up

If your test result leads your doctor to a diagnosis of liver disease, more tests will likely be ordered to find out what kind of liver disease you have. There are many different types of liver disease—the treatment course you and your doctor will pursue will depend on the type you have.

If your test result leads your doctor to a diagnosis of kidney disease, he will likely order an eGFR test and an albuminuria test. The results of these subsequent test will enable him to see the extent to which your kidney disease has progressed and to come up with a suitable treatment plan.

If your doctor suspects that you have thyroid disease, further blood tests like the blood tests include the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test, free thyroxine (Free T4), and free triiodothyronine (Free T3) antibodies testing will likely be ordered. Also, depending on the subtype of thyroid disease he suspects, he may also order imaging tests like CT-Scans and MRIs.

If from your test results, your doctor determines that your body is not absorbing protein well, she may take any of the following steps:

  • order more tests to determine the cause of your protein malabsorption, and subsequently, prescribe medication or procedures to treat it.
  • put you on a special food diet
  • prescribe protein supplements

Other Considerations

If you think any of the factors above may have affected your results, you can request that you take another one at a time when the factor(s) would have been mitigated or eliminated.

A Word From Verywell 

You should know that it's normal to feel distressed or sad if you are diagnosed with any condition after your albumin test results are analyzed. Speak to your family and friends if you feel it would help you cope better. It is also important that you discuss your treatment options extensively with your doctor as soon as possible.

If your albumin levels are within the normal range but you have a family history of liver or kidney disease, you should ask your doctor if it will be necessary to schedule serum albumin tests at regular intervals.

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