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Albumin - serum

Definition

Albumin is a protein made by the liver. A serum albumin test measures the amount of this protein in the clear liquid portion of the blood.

How the test is performed

A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture. The blood sample is placed in a machine called a centrifuge, which spins and separates the cells from the liquid part of the blood (the serum).

How to prepare for the test

The health care provider will tell you if you need to stop taking any drugs that may affect the test. Drugs that can increase albumin measurements include anabolic steroids, androgens, growth hormone, and insulin.

Why the test is performed

This test can help determine if a patient has liver disease or kidney disease, or if the body is not absorbing enough protein.

Albumin helps move many small molecules through the blood, including bilirubin, calcium, progesterone, and medications. It plays an important role in keeping the fluid from the blood from leaking out into the tissues.

Because albumin is made by the liver, decreased serum albumin may be a sign of liver disease. It can also result from kidney disease, which allows albumin to escape into the urine. Decreased albumin may also be explained by malnutrition or a low protein diet.

Normal Values

The normal range is 3.4 - 5.4 grams per deciliter (g/dL).

Note: 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 albumin may indicate:

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

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)

Special considerations

If you are receiving large amounts of intravenous fluids, the results of this test may be inaccurate.

Albumin will be decreased during pregnancy.

References

Berk PD, Korenblat KM. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver test results. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 150.


Review Date: 2/23/2009
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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