Albumin

Overview

Albumin is a protein made by the liver. It makes up about 60% of the total protein in the blood and plays many roles. It keeps fluid from leaking out of blood vessels; nourishes tissues; and transports hormones, vitamins, drugs, and ions like calcium throughout the body. The concentration of albumin in the blood is a reflection of liver function and of nutritional status.


Levels of albumin may decrease, to a greater or lesser degree, when conditions interfere with its production, increase protein breakdown, increase protein loss, and/or expand plasma volume (diluting the blood). Some of these conditions include: Acute liver disease, cirrhosis, Nephrotic syndrome due to kidney disease, burns, surgery, chronic illness, cancer, diabetes, malnutrition or hypothyroidism,


Albumin levels can rise when a person is dehydrated. This is a relative increase that occurs as the volume of plasma decreases.


Why it is done?

An albumin test is frequently ordered 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.


What do the albumin levels mean?

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. 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. 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.