Albumin Blood Test
- Also Known As:
- Serum Albumin
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Test Quick Guide
Albumin is a protein that is produced in the liver. Albumin enters the bloodstream where it helps carry vitamins, enzymes, and other important substances. Albumin also helps prevent fluids from leaking out of the bloodstream.
An albumin blood test measures the amount of albumin in a sample of your blood. It can be used to help identify various health conditions, including problems that affect the liver and kidney. Albumin may be tested alone or in a panel of measurements such as the comprehensive metabolic panel or liver panel.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of the test is to evaluate whether you have abnormal levels of albumin in your blood. Levels that are too high or too low can be indicative of an underlying health problem. Testing for albumin alone or with other measurements can play a role in diagnosis, screening, and monitoring of different conditions.
Diagnosis is testing that happens after symptoms have occurred. For example, a doctor may recommend an albumin blood test if you have signs of potential liver disease such as jaundice or fatigue or symptoms of possible kidney disease such as abnormal urination or unexplained swelling, particularly of the feet and legs.
Screening is a form of testing that tries to identify health conditions before symptoms arise. Screening is not usually done by measuring albumin alone, but albumin may be included with other measurements in a comprehensive metabolic panel or liver panel that may be prescribed during a routine medical check-up as a form of screening.
Monitoring involves testing to see how a person’s condition develops or responds to treatment. Follow-up tests for albumin in the blood may provide information about the severity of liver disease and how a condition changes over time.
What does the test measure?
The test measures the total amount of the albumin in the blood. Albumin is a protein that is produced in the liver and then enters the bloodstream where it is carried to other parts of the body. Albumin’s biological functions are to keep fluid from leaking out of the blood and to carry substances like hormones, enzymes, and vitamins in the body.
If albumin is included in a panel test, other measurements will be taken using the same blood sample.
When should I get an albumin blood test?
An albumin blood test may be prescribed if you are having symptoms that could be caused by a problem affecting your liver or kidneys. Albumin levels alone do not diagnose these types of conditions, but they can provide important information to help your doctor identify the problem.
If you don’t have any signs of liver problems, it is not typically recommended to test for albumin alone. However, an albumin measurement may be included in panel tests that may be used for medical check-ups. In these tests, like the comprehensive metabolic panel, albumin levels can be interpreted in relation to other measurements.
Your physician can best explain whether and when an albumin blood test is recommended in your specific situation.
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Finding an Albumin Blood Test
How to get tested
An albumin blood test requires a sample of blood to be taken from a vein in your arm. The test is typically prescribed by a health professional, and the sample is taken in a doctor’s office, health clinic, hospital, or laboratory.
Can I take the test at home?
Blood tests to measure albumin levels alone are not currently available as an at-home test. Panel tests that include albumin are normally done in a medical setting, but some at-home options exist to measure albumin along with other indicators of liver function. These tests involve collecting a drop of blood from your fingertip, applying it to a test strip, and sending the sample by mail to a laboratory where it can be analyzed.
How much does the test cost?
The cost of an albumin blood test depends on multiple factors including where you have the test taken, whether other measurements are included, and whether you have medical insurance.
The costs of testing may include an office visit, the technician fee for drawing your blood, and the laboratory fee for analyzing your sample. These costs are often covered by insurance when the test is prescribed by your physician, but you should check with your insurance plan for coverage details including whether you are responsible for a deductible or copay.
Taking an Albumin Blood Test
Testing requires a blood sample that is normally obtained by removing a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. This blood sample can be taken in a doctor’s office or other medical setting.
While at-home tests are far less common, they can be done by pricking your finger to get a drop of blood that can be sent to a lab.
Before the test
Before taking an albumin blood test, tell your doctor about any medications or supplements that you are taking. Some types of drugs can affect albumin levels, and your doctor can tell you if it is necessary to adjust your medications before the test.
If only albumin is being measured, you do not need to fast before your blood is drawn. When albumin is measured as part of a panel test, you may need to avoid eating or drinking any beverages besides water for 12 hours or more beforehand.
Check with your physician ahead of time to find out exactly which type of test you are having and any preparation that is required. If the doctor mentions any test preparation, make sure to follow those instructions carefully.
With at-home tests, it is essential to carefully read all the provided instructions before taking the test in order to ensure that you prepare your sample correctly.
During the test
The test procedure involves removing a small vial of blood from a vein in your arm. You will sit in a chair, and an elastic band will be tied around your upper arm. An antiseptic is used to clean the inside of your arm near your elbow, and then a needle will be inserted to withdraw blood.
The entire process normally lasts less than a couple of minutes. There may be some minor pain or discomfort when the needle is inserted and removed.
An at-home test kit involves a quick fingerstick to obtain a drop of blood from your fingertip. The blood sample is placed on a strip of test paper and then packaged for delivery to a laboratory.
After the test
A bandage or cotton swab may be used to apply pressure and stop bleeding after your blood has been drawn. There may be light bruising or soreness around the puncture site. You can usually drive and return to normal activities after the test is done.
A blood draw is a routine procedure that normally has no serious or lasting side effects. If you notice any severe or persistent effects, contact your doctor for specific guidance.
There are few lasting effects after an at-home test with a fingerstick. If your fingertip keeps bleeding after you have taken the test sample, you can apply pressure with a cotton swab or a bandage.
Albumin Blood Test Results
Receiving test results
Results from an albumin blood test are usually available within a few business days. Your doctor’s office may contact you directly to provide your results, or you may get a test report sent to you electronically or in the mail.
Interpreting test results
Your test report will list your albumin level. Albumin is measured in grams per deciliter (g/dL) of blood. If other measurements were taken in a panel test, you will see separate line items for each of those measurements on your test report.
A typical reference range for normal albumin levels is 3.5 to 5.5 g/dL. Reference ranges can vary by laboratory, so it is important to look closely at your test report to see if a different range is listed.
Albumin levels that are above or below the reference range may reflect an underlying health concern. Low albumin levels can be caused by conditions that affect the liver’s normal function and ability to synthesize albumin.
Albumin persists in the blood for several weeks, so recent, short-term liver health issues that decrease albumin production may not be detected. Decreased albumin levels are more frequently associated with chronic conditions affecting the liver like cirrhosis.
Although albumin is produced in the liver, abnormally low albumin levels can also be tied to kidney conditions, malnutrition, inflammation, infection, thyroid disease, and gastrointestinal problems. Abnormally high levels of albumin most often occur as a result of dehydration, which may be caused by other conditions such as severe diarrhea.
Doctors often interpret the significance of albumin levels alongside measurements of other indicators of metabolism and the health of the liver and kidneys. Seeing which measurements are normal and abnormal can help reveal patterns in your results that may reveal the most likely cause of the test’s findings.
Your physician is best able to describe your test results and review what they may mean for your health as well as whether any other tests are appropriate as a follow-up.
Are test results accurate?
Measuring albumin in the blood is routine and broadly accurate. Like all medical tests, blood albumin testing is not perfect, and some methods of measuring albumin can underestimate or overestimate levels in certain situations.
When reviewing your test results, you can ask your doctor about the laboratory that conducted the test, the reference range they use, and the reliability of your test results.
Do I need follow-up tests?
There are many circumstances in which follow-up tests may be prescribed after you have had an albumin blood test. If your albumin level was abnormal, further tests may be needed to determine the underlying cause and establish a specific diagnosis. Your physician can review your albumin level as well as any other measurements taken on a panel test to describe the rationale, benefits, and downsides of different possible follow-up tests.
Questions for your doctor about test results
As you review your test results with your physician, some of the following questions may help you better understand your situation and the significance of your albumin level:
- Was my albumin level normal or abnormal? If it was abnormal, was it high or low?
- Were any other measurements taken along with albumin? What can you learn from those levels?
- What is the most likely explanation for my test result?
- Are there any follow-up tests that you recommend? What are the pros and cons of those tests?
It is natural to have questions about what distinguishes albumin blood tests from other types of tests that involve or relate to albumin in the body. The following sections discuss similarities and differences among related tests.
How is albumin blood testing different from urine albumin testing?
Urine albumin testing is used predominantly to identify kidney problems while albumin blood testing can detect problems with the liver, kidney, or other systems of the body.
After being produced in the liver, albumin moves into the bloodstream. When your kidneys function properly, they prevent albumin from entering the urine. In this way, testing can look for albumin in the urine, which can reflect abnormal kidney function.
How is albumin different from prealbumin?
Both albumin and prealbumin are proteins produced in the liver. Despite the name, prealbumin is not a precursor to albumin but rather a separate molecule. In fact, its formal name is transthyretin.
Prealbumin serves mainly to help transport thyroid hormones and vitamin A in the blood. It does not last nearly as long in the blood as albumin, so prealbumin levels shift more quickly in response to short-term health changes. Measuring prealbumin is most often done to help assess nutritional status.
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