Albumin is routinely included in the panels of tests performed as part of a physical, such as a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), so it is frequently assessed as a part of an evaluation of a person's overall health status.
Additionally, since albumin can be low in many different diseases and disorders, it may be used in a variety of settings to help diagnose disease, to monitor changes in health status with treatment or with disease progression, and as a screen that may indicate the need for other kinds of testing.
An albumin test is frequently ordered as part of a panel of tests performed for a physical or health screening. It may also be ordered, along with other tests, when a person has symptoms of a liver disorder such as jaundice, fatigue, or weight loss, or symptoms of nephrotic syndrome such as swelling around the eyes, belly, or legs.
A health practitioner may also order an albumin test to check or monitor a person's nutritional status. However, since albumin concentrations respond to a variety of conditions in addition to malnutrition, a decrease in albumin needs to be evaluated carefully.
Low albumin levels are a warning and an indication that further investigation may be warranted. They may reflect a temporary condition that will resolve itself or may suggest an acute or chronic condition that requires medical intervention.
A low albumin can suggest liver disease. Other liver enzyme tests are ordered to determine exactly which type of liver disease. A person may, however, have normal or near normal albumin levels with liver disease until the condition has reached an advanced stage. For example, in people with cirrhosis, albumin is typically (but not always) low whereas in most chronic liver diseases that have not progressed to cirrhosis, albumin is usually normal.
Low albumin levels can reflect diseases in which the kidneys cannot prevent albumin from leaking from the blood into the urine and being lost. In this case, the amount of albumin or protein in the urine also may be measured (see Urine Albumin).
Low albumin levels can also be seen in inflammation, shock, and malnutrition. They may be seen with conditions in which the body does not properly absorb and digest protein, such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease, or in which large volumes of protein are lost from the intestines.
High albumin levels can be seen with dehydration, although the test is not typically used to monitor or detect this condition.
This article was last reviewed on January 29, 2013. | This article was last modified on February 24, 2015.
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