What is a Serum Albumin Test?
Proteins circulate throughout your blood to help your body maintain fluid balance. Albumin is produced in the liver, and is one of the most abundant proteins in your blood’s fluid or plasma. A proper balance of albumin is required to keep fluid from leaking out of blood vessels. Albumin also carries vital nutrients, hormones, and proteins required to clot blood properly.
If your liver and/or kidneys are not working well, serum albumins won’t be at their normal levels. With a simple blood test, your doctor can find out your albumin levels and interpret what your levels may mean for your health.
Why Is the Test Done?
Your liver takes proteins in your diet and turns them into new proteins to circulate to the various organs and tissues of your body. This is why the serum albumin test can tell your physician how well your liver is working. An albumin test is often used as part of a test known as a liver panel, which tests your blood for albumin, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, and prealbumin.
Your physician will likely order an albumin test if he or she suspects you may have a condition that affects your liver function. Symptoms associated with liver disease include:
- jaundice or yellow skin
- weight loss
- swelling around the eyes, stomach, and/or legs
The serum albumin test also can test the status of certain medical conditions, such as chronic pancreatitis, liver disease, or kidney disease. If you have one of these conditions, serum albumin results can indicate if your condition is improving or advancing.
How Is the Test Performed?
To perform the serum albumin test, a medical provider will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm. First, he or she will use an alcohol swab or antiseptic wipe to cleanse your skin. Then, a needle will be inserted into your vein and a blood sample will be taken in one or more tubes, depending upon how much blood is to be drawn.
You do not need to take any extra steps before the test, but the test may be affected by certain medications such as insulin, certain steroids, androgen or male hormones and growth hormone. The test can also be affected if you’ve been receiving intravenous (IV) fluids prior to testing.
How Are the Results Interpreted?
Because a serum albumin test is often part of a set of tests related to liver function, your physician likely will look at all your test results to understand what may be going on in your body. The typical value for serum albumin is 3.4 to 5.4 g/dL of blood, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, these results may vary based on the individual laboratory’s standards.
Low albumin levels can signal a number of health conditions, including:
- liver disease
- nephritic syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- celiac disease
If your physician suspects low albumin levels due to liver disease, he or she may order additional testing to determine the specific liver disease type, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, or hepatocellular necrosis.
Dehydration can lead to high serum albumin levels. However, a serum albumin test usually is not necessary to diagnose dehydration.
What Are the Test’s Side Effects?
Because the test does not require a large sample of blood, the test is considered low-risk. However, some people may have veins that are difficult to draw blood from, causing more time and minimal discomfort.
Notify your physician or medical provider if you have a medical condition that may affect bleeding or if you’re taking medications (such as blood thinners) that may cause you to bleed more than expected.
Side effects associated with the serum albumin test include:
- bleeding where the needle is inserted
- bruising where the needle is inserted
- fainting sensation accumulation of blood under the skin
- infection at the puncture site
Notify your medical provider if you experience unexpected side effects.