This test measures the amount of albumin in your blood and it is often performed as part of Liver Function Tests. Albumin is made in the liver and helps carry hormones, vitamins, drugs and minerals such as calcium through the bloodstream. One of its most important roles is helping to maintain fluid balance in the body by preventing fluid leaking from the blood vessels into other tissues. Without enough albumin fluid can build up in your lungs and other parts of your body.
Measuring albumin is a non-invasive way to check for the presence and severity of liver disease, which causes albumin levels to be low. Several tests can be ordered when one of these underlying conditions is suspected. The tests most commonly requested are Liver Function Tests, serum albumin, aminotransferases, bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase and prothrombin time. They are all performed on the same sample.
Albumin can also be low due to a range of health problems including kidney diseases and conditions where the intestine doesn't absorb nutrients. These include coeliac disease, Crohn's disease, and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and malnutrition. High levels of albumin are a sign of dehydration.
Why get tested?
People who have chronic liver disease and kidney disorders are at highest risk of developing abnormally low albumin levels. A blood albumin test can be used to check your nutritional status.
Low albumin levels can be caused by conditions that affect the liver's normal ability to synthesise albumin. A blood albumin test is usually included in the Liver Function Tests panel of blood tests. The test can help differentiate what type of liver disease you have. Albumin stays in the blood for about 20 days, so recent, short-term health issues that affect albumin levels may not be detected. Decreased albumin levels are more often associated with chronic ongoing conditions.
When kidneys are functioning properly only a tiny amount of albumin is lost in the urine. In a condition called nephrotic syndrome the kidneys cannot stop albumin from leaking from the blood into the urine and being lost. If this is suspected a urine test is ordered to measure urine albumin levels.
If your intestine doesn't absorb nutrients properly and you have prolonged diarrhoea you can develop low albumin levels. The test can be ordered if you have lost a lot of weight or have a gastrointestinal condition such as coeliac disease, Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
Other causes of low albumin levels include inflammation and burns, infection and thyroid disease.
Albumin tests alone do not diagnose these conditions but they can provide important information to help your doctor pinpoint the problem. Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, albumin tests are often used to monitor your condition and to make sure treatment is working.
Having the test
Reading your test report
Your results will be presented along with those of your other tests on the same form. You will see separate columns or lines for each of these tests.
Your results will be compared to reference intervals (sometimes called a normal range).
If your results are flagged as high or low this does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong. It depends on your personal situation. Your results need to be interpreted by your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
The choice of tests your doctor makes will be based on your medical history and symptoms. It is important that you tell them everything you think may help.
You play a central role in making sure your test results are accurate. Do everything you can to make sure the information you provide is correct and follow instructions closely.
Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. Find out if you need to fast or stop any particular foods or supplements. These may affect your results. Ask:
Any more to know?
Albumin is low during pregnancy. This is normal and does not indicate the presence of any disease.
High albumin levels usually reflect dehydration although the test is not used for this purpose. Dehydration is usually assessed by physical examination.
The prealbumin test measures a protein that reflects your nutritional status, particularly before and after surgery, or if you are hospitalised or taking nutritional supplements.
The urine albumin creatinine ratio test measures very small levels of albumin in your urine and may show whether you are at risk of developing kidney disease. If you are diabetic, you should have an albumin creatinine ratio test measured at least yearly, to check for the development of diabetes-associated kidney disease.
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