Until recently, the prealbumin test was believed to be a useful marker of nutritional status and was used to help detect and diagnose protein-calorie malnutrition as well as to monitor people receiving total parenteral nutrition (TPN, getting nutrition via a solution injected into a vein). It was also used to monitor changes in nutritional status in someone undergoing hemodialysis as part of treatment for kidney disease.
Some health practitioners continue to use the test in this manner; however, there is controversy because changes in prealbumin may actually reflect other conditions such as inflammation, infection, or trauma. As such, it has been suggested by some health professionals that the prealbumin test should no longer be used to assess nutritional status or diagnose malnutrition. However, others believe that the test can be useful in determining prognosis for people who are critically ill, hospitalized, and/or at risk of poor outcomes and can prompt nutritional and other support that may improve patient outcomes.
With the caveats stated above, a prealbumin test may be ordered by some health practitioners when signs and symptoms of malnutrition are present or when a person is felt to be at risk for malnutrition, such as during a critical or chronic illness, hospitalization, or when receiving parenteral nutrition or undergoing hemodialysis. It may also be ordered to aid in the determination of the severity of a patient's illness.
Given the ongoing discussion of the appropriate use of this test as researchers continue to explore the role of prealbumin the body and what changes in its level in the body reflect, interpretation of prealbumin results is challenging. Some suggest that a single prealbumin result is less meaningful that a series of measurements taken several days apart, along with other clinical assessments and laboratory tests. For example, measures of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), may be ordered to aid in interpretation of the prealbumin results.
A high level of prealbumin may be seen in certain conditions, but the test is not used for diagnosis or monitoring in these situations.
This article was last reviewed on September 16, 2013. | This article was last modified on April 3, 2014.
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