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Alpha-1 antitrypsin test

Definition

Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a laboratory test to measure the amount of alpha-1 antitrypsin (A1AT) in your blood.

Alternative Names

A1AT test

How the test is performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

How to prepare for the test

There is no special preparation.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

This test is helpful in identifying a rare form of emphysema in adults and a rare form of liver disease (cirrhosis) in children and adults caused by an A1AT deficiency. Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is condition passed down through families in which the liver does not make enough of a protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage.

Everyone has two copies of the gene that makes A1AT. Most people with lower than normal levels of A1AT have one normal gene for A1AT, and one abnormal gene. Persons with two abnormal copies of the gene have more severe disease.

Normal Values

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Lower than normal levels of A1AT may be associated with:

What the risks are

There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Anthonisen N. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 88.


Review Date: 5/23/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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