Also Known As
BUN
Urea Nitrogen
BUN to Creatinine Ratio
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on November 19, 2019.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To evaluate the health of your kidneys; to help diagnose kidney disease; to monitor the effectiveness of dialysis and other treatments related to kidney disease or damage

When To Get Tested?

As part of a routine comprehensive or basic metabolic panel (CMP or BMP) during a health exam; when you have signs and symptoms that may be due to kidney disease or you have a condition that may cause or be worsened by kidney dysfunction; at regular intervals when you are being treated for kidney disease or damage

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein

Test Preparation Needed?

None

What is being tested?

Urea is a waste product formed in the liver when protein is metabolized into its component parts (amino acids). This process produces ammonia, which is then converted into the less toxic waste product urea. This test measures the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) level in the blood. Sometimes, a BUN to creatinine ratio is calculated to help determine the cause of elevated levels.

Nitrogen is a component of both ammonia and urea. Urea and urea nitrogen are referred to somewhat interchangeably because urea contains nitrogen and because urea/urea nitrogen is the "transport method" used by the body to rid itself of excess nitrogen. Urea is formed in and released by the liver into the blood and is carried to the kidneys, where it is filtered out of the blood and released into the urine. Since this is an ongoing process, there is usually a small but stable amount of urea nitrogen in the blood. However, when the kidneys cannot filter wastes out of the blood due to disease or damage, then the level of urea in the blood will rise.

The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs that are located at the bottom of the ribcage in the right and left sides of the back. Within them are about a million tiny blood filtering units called nephrons. In each nephron, blood is continually filtered through a microscopic cluster of looping blood vessels, called glomerulus. The glomerulus allows the passage of water and small molecules but retains blood cells and larger molecules. Attached to each glomerulus is a tiny tube (tubule) that collects the fluid and molecules that pass through the glomerulus and then reabsorbs what still can be used by the body. The remaining waste forms urine.

Most diseases or conditions that affect the kidneys or liver have the potential to affect the amount of urea present in the blood. If increased amounts of urea are produced by the liver or if the kidneys are not working properly and have difficulty filtering wastes out of the blood, then urea levels will rise in the blood. If significant liver damage or disease inhibits the production of urea, then BUN levels may fall.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is the test used?

    The BUN test is primarily used, along with the creatinine test, to evaluate kidney function in a wide range of circumstances, to help diagnose kidney disease, and to monitor people with kidney dysfunction or failure. It also may be used to evaluate your general health status when ordered as part of a renal panel, basic metabolic panel or comprehensive metabolic panel.

    If your creatinine and BUN tests are found to be abnormal or if you have an underlying disease that is known to affect the kidneys, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, then creatinine and BUN tests may be used to monitor for kidney dysfunction and the effectiveness of treatment.

    Blood creatinine and BUN tests may also be ordered to evaluate kidney function prior to some procedures, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan, that may require the use of drugs that can damage the kidneys if not cleared rapidly.

  • When is it ordered?

    BUN is part of the BMP and CMP, groups of tests that are often ordered:

    • When you have a routine health checkup
    • When you are acutely ill and seek medical care at an emergency room
    • During a hospital stay

    BUN is often ordered with creatinine or renal panel when it is suspected that you have a kidney problem with signs and symptoms such as:

    • Blood and/or protein in your urine
    • Swelling or puffiness (edema), particularly around the eyes or in the face, wrists, abdomen, thighs, or ankles
    • Urine that is foamy, bloody, or coffee-colored
    • A marked decrease in the amount of urine
    • Problems urinating, such as a burning feeling or abnormal discharge during urination, or a change in the frequency of urination, especially at night
    • Mid-back pain (flank), below the ribs, near where the kidneys are located
    • High blood pressure (hypertension)

    BUN also may be ordered:

    • At regular intervals to monitor kidney function when you have a chronic disease or condition such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, or when you have had a heart attack
    • At regular intervals to monitor kidney function and treatment when you have been diagnosed with kidney disease
    • Prior to and during certain drug treatments to monitor kidney function
    • Along with a creatinine when a CT scan is planned
    • At regular intervals to monitor the effectiveness of dialysis
  • What does the test result mean?

    Results of BUN tests are interpreted along with creatinine results and with other tests results that may have been performed at the same time, such as a renal panel.

    BUN and creatinine levels that are within the ranges established by the laboratory performing the test suggest that your kidneys are functioning as they should. Increased BUN and creatinine levels may mean that your kidneys are not working as they should. Your healthcare practitioner will consider other factors, such as your medical history and physical exam, to determine what condition, if any, may be affecting your kidneys.

    Some examples of conditions that can increase BUN levels include:

    • Kidney disease, kidney damage, or kidney failure; for more details, read the article on Kidney Disease.
    • Decreased blood flow to the kidneys, caused by conditions such as congestive heart failure, shock, stress, recent heart attack, or severe burns
    • Conditions that can block the flow of urine, such as kidney stones
    • Dehydration
    • Increased protein breakdown or significantly increased protein in the diet

    Low BUN levels are not common and are not usually a cause for concern. Decreased BUN may be seen in severe liver disease, malnutrition, and sometimes when you are overhydrated (too much fluid volume), but the BUN test is not usually used to diagnose or monitor these conditions.

    If one kidney is fully functional, the BUN level may be normal even when the other kidney is not functioning properly.

  • My BUN result is slightly out of range. What does this mean?

    Your BUN result is interpreted by your healthcare provider within the context of other tests that you have had done as well as other factors, such as your medical history. A single result that is slightly high or low may or may not have medical significance. This is why a healthcare practitioner may repeat a test on you and why they may look at results from prior times when you had the same test performed.

    However, a result outside the range may indicate a problem and warrant further investigation. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your test results in the context of other relevant factors to determine whether a result that falls outside of the reference range means something significant for you.

    For more, read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

  • What is a BUN to Creatinine ratio?

    Occasionally, a healthcare practitioner will look at the ratio between a person's BUN and blood creatinine to help determine what is causing these concentrations to be higher than normal. The ratio of BUN to creatinine is usually between 10:1 and 20:1. An increased ratio may be due to a condition that causes a decrease in the flow of blood to the kidneys, such as congestive heart failure or dehydration. It may also be seen with increased protein, from gastrointestinal bleeding, or increased protein in the diet. The ratio may be decreased with liver disease (due to decrease in the formation of urea) and malnutrition.

  • What other tests are used with the blood urea nitrogen test to check how my kidneys are functioning?

    BUN and creatinine are the primary tests used to check how well the kidneys are able to filter waste products from your blood.  Your healthcare provider may also order other tests to evaluate kidney function. Examples include:

  • How does BUN change with age?

    BUN levels increase with age. BUN levels in very young babies are about 2/3 of the levels found in healthy young adults, while levels in adults over 60 years of age are slightly higher than younger adults.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    BUN levels can increase with the amount of protein in the diet. High-protein diets may cause abnormally high BUN levels while very low-protein diets can cause an abnormally low BUN.

    A wide variety of drugs can cause an increase in BUN. Drugs that can decrease BUN include chloramphenicol and streptomycin. Inform your healthcare provider of any medications you are taking.

    Both decreased and increased BUN concentrations may be seen during a normal pregnancy.

You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory's website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Lab Tests Online. You may have been directed here by your lab's website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab's website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Lab Tests Online is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called "normal" values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are "within normal limits."

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

BUN Reference Range

The reference ranges1 provided here represent a theoretical guideline that should not be used to interpret your test results. Some variation is likely between these numbers and the reference range reported by the lab that ran your test. Please consult your healthcare provider.

Age Conventional Units2 SI Units3
0-18 years Not available due to wide variability. See child's lab report for reference range.
Adult 6-20 mg/dL 2.1-7.1 mmol/L
>60 years 8-23 mg/dL 2.9-8.2 mmol/L

1 from Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Diagnostics. Burtis CA, Ashwood ER, Bruns DE, eds. 5th edition, St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders; 2011.

2 Conventional Units are typically used for reporting results in U.S. labs

3 SI Units are used to report lab results outside of the U.S.

Health Professionals – LOINC

Logo for LOINC from RegenstriefLOINC Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC®) is the international standard for identifying health measurements, observations, and documents. It provides a common language to unambiguously identify things you can measure or observe that enables the exchange and aggregation of clinical results for care delivery, outcomes management, and research. Learn More.

Listed in the table below are the LOINC with links to the LOINC detail pages. Please note when you click on the hyperlinked code, you are leaving Lab Tests Online and accessing Loinc.org.

LOINC LOINC Display Name
11064-3 Urea nitrogen post dialysis [Mass/Vol]
49071-4 Urea nitrogen post dialysis/pre dialysis [Mass ratio]
11065-0 Urea nitrogen pre dialysis [Mass/Vol]
3097-3 Urea nitrogen/Creatinine [Mass ratio]
6299-2 Urea nitrogen (Bld) [Mass/Vol]
12961-9 Urea nitrogen (BldA) [Mass/Vol]
12963-5 Urea nitrogen (BldP) [Mass/Vol]
12962-7 Urea nitrogen (BldV) [Mass/Vol]
3094-0 Urea nitrogen [Mass/Vol]
59570-2 Urea nitrogen (Bld) [Moles/Vol]
14937-7 Urea nitrogen [Moles/Vol]
View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review

2019 review performed by Richa Athalye and the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board.

(April 15, 2019) MedlinePlus. Blood Urea Nitrogen. Available online at https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/bun-blood-urea-nitrogen/. Accessed August 2019.

(March 6, 2014) Medscape Reference. Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN). Available online at https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2073979-overview. Accessed August 2019.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN), serum. Mayo Medical Laboratories. Available online at http://www.mayomedicallaboratories.com/test-catalog/Clinical+and+Interpretive/81793. Accessed August 2019.

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