The Test Sample
What is being tested?
Aldosterone is a hormone that plays an important role in maintaining normal sodium and potassium concentrations in blood and in controlling blood volume and blood pressure. Renin is an enzyme that controls aldosterone production. These tests measure the levels of aldosterone and renin in the blood and/or the level of aldosterone in urine.
Aldosterone is produced by the adrenal glands located at the top of each kidney, in their outer portion (called the adrenal cortex). Aldosterone stimulates the retention of sodium (salt) and the excretion of potassium by the kidneys. Renin is produced by the kidneys and controls the activation of the hormone angiotensin, which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce aldosterone.
The kidneys release renin when there is a drop in blood pressure or a decrease in sodium chloride concentration in the tubules in the kidney. Renin cleaves the blood protein angiotensinogen to form angiotensin I, which is then converted by a second enzyme to angiotensin II. Angiotensin II causes blood vessels to constrict, and it stimulates aldosterone production. Overall, this raises blood pressure and keeps sodium and potassium at normal levels.
A variety of conditions can lead to aldosterone overproduction (hyperaldosteronism, usually just called aldosteronism) or underproduction (hypoaldosteronism). Since renin and aldosterone are so closely related, both substances are often tested together to identify the cause of an abnormal aldosterone.
How is the sample collected for testing?
A blood sample is taken by needle from a vein in the arm to measure blood aldosterone and/or renin. Some doctors prefer 24-hour urine collection for aldosterone since blood aldosterone levels vary throughout the day and are affected by position. In some cases, blood is collected from the renal (for renin) or adrenal (for aldosterone) veins by insertion of a catheter; this is done in the hospital by a radiologist.
NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.
Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.
Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?
For a blood aldosterone and renin measurement, the doctor may ask you to be upright or lying down for a period of time (e.g., 15-30 minutes) prior to sample collection. You may also be instructed to avoid certain beverages, foods, or medications before the test. Follow any instructions you are given. (For more, see the section "Is there anything else I should know?")