What Is A Globulin Test?

A test measuring protein in the blood

A globulin test, sometimes called globulin electrophoresis, is a blood test that measures levels of a group of proteins called globulins. Globulins, which make up a little less than half of the blood proteins, have several functions, including immune defense, transporting substances, and enzymatic processes.

There are two types of globulin tests which are used to test for the four types of globulin proteins (Alpha 1, Alpha 2, beta, and gamma globulin proteins). These proteins are tested by either a total protein test or a serum protein electrophoresis test, which are the two subtypes of globulin tests.

Purpose of Test

A globulin test is a blood test, which involves a healthcare professional drawing blood from a vein in your arm. There are many reasons why someone may have their blood drawn in order to receive laboratory testing. However, this test should not be confused with a complete blood count (CBC), which is the most common reason a physician orders a blood draw.

The purpose of a total protein test is to measure Alpha 1, Alpha 2, and beta globulin proteins along with another liver protein called albumin. Since these types of globulin proteins are important to the function of the liver and kidneys, low levels on a total protein test may indicate you have liver or kidney disease. A total protein test is a good indication of how the liver is working, meaning a total protein test is included in a series of tests called liver function tests.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as jaundice, nausea, vomiting, itching, constant fatigue, fluid buildup, and loss of appetite, your doctor may suspect liver dysfunction and order a total protein test.

The second type of globulin test is serum protein electrophoresis which is used to measure the gamma globulin along with other trace proteins in the blood. These gamma globulins contain antibodies, which assist the body in fighting disease and foreign substances.

Antibodies are very important in maintaining a healthy immune system, meaning this test helps determine and diagnose hyperactive immune system issues including allergies and autoimmune disorders. An increase in gamma globulin proteins in the blood also may indicate infection, chronic inflammation, and cancer called multiple myeloma (in severe cases).

This test is not able to diagnose these conditions alone, as their results must be complemented with a thorough physician’s evaluation.

Globulin tests are often used by physicians to assist with diagnosing liver disease, kidney disease, malnutrition or malabsorption, immune system disorders, and some forms of cancer.

If your physician already suspects one of these diagnoses or specific liver and/or kidney concerns, they may order one of the globulin tests. If you have already taken a globulin test which indicates areas of concern, your physician will then complete a physical examination, medical history, and other tests before making an official diagnosis.

Risks and Contraindications

Venipuncture, or blood draw, involves very little risk and it is a routine procedure to be completed at a physician’s visit.

Since the test involves puncturing the vein, there is the risk for:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Developing a hematoma (or broken blood vessels under the skin)
  • Dizziness
  • Infection resulting from skin puncture

There are no long-term side effects associated with a globulin test. If these minor side effects do occur, they are able to be resolved and addressed immediately.

While there is a very small risk of infection resulting from this test, this risk can be significantly lowered through the use of single-use needles and performing appropriate safety precautions during the blood draw.

The chances of someone receiving a blood draw during a physician’s visit is very high since this is a regular procedure to be performed for many blood tests. Because there are very few and minor risks involved, this test is considered one of the safest medical procedures you may receive.

The benefit of this test far outweighs the minor risks, since the results of a globulin test are vital information used which assists in diagnosing a variety of conditions.

There are no contraindications for this test, as it is considered safe for anyone to undergo.

Before the Test

It is often required to fast before taking a globulin test. Many doctors ask you to not eat or drink anything for four hours prior to the test, but you will be specifically told if this is the case.

Certain medications will impact the results of the test and you should consult your doctor if you are taking any of the following medications:

You should be sure to only stop taking these medications if instructed to do so by your doctor.

Most blood draws are done in-office on the same day your doctor decides to complete the test. However, if your doctor requires you to fast before the test, you will be scheduled for the blood draw on a later date.

Your doctor will often complete a medical history, medication review, physical examination, and family history before deciding to complete a globulin test. This will assist in making a diagnosis once the results of the test are confirmed.

Timing

Receiving a blood draw for the globulin test should take less than five minutes, depending on how experienced your technician is. Additional time is usually needed to verify your name and demographic information to ensure the vials of blood are appropriately labeled as your own. This is for the purposes of information security and keeping your health records confidential.

There is no waiting for results directly after the blood draw, as your blood is often sent to an external laboratory for testing. This means your physician will call you once the results are available.

Location

In larger physician’s offices, the blood draw for a globulin test may be completed in-office. However, most physician’s offices require patients to have the blood draw taken at an external laboratory they are contracted with. These laboratories are often big companies such as Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, meaning they have many locations in surrounding areas.

Once getting to the testing facility, you check-in at the front desk. Your doctor will have given you a registration paper to give to the receptionist to describe the type of test you are having done. This is to ensure the appropriate amount of blood is taken.

When you are ready for the test, you are taken to an individual exam room and the blood is drawn.

What to Wear

Since this test simply involves a blood draw, clothes are kept on. It helps to wear layers for easy access to your veins, located at the crease of your elbow.

Food and Drink

There may be a fasting component your doctor requires before this test. If this is the case, you are to avoid eating or drinking anything aside from water for four hours before this test. Only do this if your doctor instructs you to.

Similarly, with medications, stop taking them four hours before the test but only if your doctor instructs you to.

It is a good idea to drink extra water before a blood draw, as this will make your veins larger and allow for an easier blood draw. This will decrease the likelihood of complications which may result from someone who is dehydrated or does not have prominent veins.

Cost and Health Insurance

A blood draw for a globulin test is a routine procedure and should not require insurance approval beforehand. The cost of this test typically varies based on your insurance plan. However, most blood draws are covered under insurance plans, meaning there will be little to no out-of-pocket cost for you.

What to Bring

You will need to bring the registration paper from your doctor in order to receive this test. Otherwise, the laboratory will have no record of your test and it will not be completed. It is also a good idea to bring your health insurance card and photo identification with you, in the event it is needed.

There may be some waiting time before the blood draw if you are sent to an external laboratory. In this case, it helps to have some reading material to pass the time.

During the Test

The blood draw for this test is not done by your physician, but a phlebotomist. Phlebotomists are specially trained healthcare professionals who are certified to complete blood draws for tests and a variety of other reasons. 

Pre-Test

If you are at your doctor’s office, you will need to fill out the typical paperwork before any visit. This often includes showing your insurance cards, filling out a basic demographics form, and confirming your information is correct.

If your doctor sends you to another part of their office to complete the blood draw, you will likely need to bring a registration form with you detailing the test and how much blood will be drawn. This simply ensures the blood is appropriately labelled as yours, which is imperative when it is sent to be tested.

Throughout the Test

You will sit in a regular chair for the blood test. A phlebotomist will look at your veins to determine which are better to draw the blood from. The phlebotomist also sometimes asks if you have a preference as to which arm is used for the blood draw.

The provider will often place a band around the upper part of your arm. This assists in temporarily stopping blood flow to the area, which allows your veins to be seen more easily. Sometimes this is not done if you have readily visible veins.

The phlebotomist then sterilizes your elbow crease with an antibacterial wipe and uses a sterile marker to mark the area over the vein. 

The needle is inserted. Some people experience a slight stinging. This is temporary and should be less painful after the blood draw is done.

The phlebotomist will typically fill up four to five small vials of your blood from the single vein puncture. This takes several minutes, as long as you are adequately hydrated. The phlebotomist may ask you to squeeze a small ball during this process if they are having difficulty with your blood flowing into the vials.

You should let the phlebotomist know if you become dizzy, lightheaded, or feel as if you may faint.

Post-Test

The area where the vein was punctured will be covered with a cotton pad and medical tape. You are often instructed to keep these on for the next several hours. It is also recommended you refrain from heavy lifting, exercise, or strenuous activity for several hours after the blood draw.

You are able to drive yourself home after the test, as blood draws typically do not need any recovery period. In the rare event of dizziness or fainting, it is recommended to stay at the clinic for a short time to recover, drink water, and eat something until you are feeling better.

After the Test

There are no special instructions to follow after a blood draw for a globulin test. Your doctor should have informed you an approximate time when you will receive results, at which point he may ask you to come back into the office for a follow-up visit.

No major side effects are common after a blood draw. Even if you are feeling dizzy or faint after the blood draw, generally healthy people will quickly recover after rest and fluids. Fainting is typically due to a lack of food and water.

Interpreting Results

Results usually take several days up to one week to arrive, depending on the size of the laboratory where the test is completed. Your doctor will receive the results from this test, interpret them, determine what the next steps are, and relay all of this information to you.

Results from a globulin test come in the form of laboratory values, which are numbers indicating healthy levels of proteins in the blood. The protein globulin should be between 2.0 and 3.5 grams per deci-liter (g/dL). The normal range for a total protein test is 6 and 8.3 g/dL. These proteins may also be higher during pregnancy and this is normal.

A total protein test will also provide you with albumin to globulin ratio (A/G ratio). This ratio should typically be just above 1.0. A low ratio typically indicates autoimmune disorders, poor kidney function, or liver disease. A high ratio may indicate certain types of cancer or genetic conditions.

Again, the results of this test are not used in isolation to make a diagnosis. Your doctor will interpret these results and combine these findings with a physical examination, medical history, and other tests before making an official diagnosis.

Follow-Up

If this test indicated normal laboratory values, there is no need for a follow-up unless there is another issue. If these values are out of the normal range, your doctor will likely order additional blood tests or complete an MRI if cancer is suspected. When cancer is suspected, additional diagnostic tests will be completed immediately as time is of the essence.

A Word From Verywell

Any medical procedure may be taxing on a person’s emotional and physical health. It is important to become well-informed and educated regarding the options and treatment methods available to you.

It is also important to recognize there are steps you should take to improve your own health in addition to the treatment methods which follow. Eating a balanced diet, exercising as you are able, losing weight, and quitting smoking are just some conservative methods to improve most health conditions. Practicing stress management and relaxation techniques also help ease with anxiety which you may be feeling while waiting for test results.

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