At a glance

Why get tested?

To screen for liver or kidney disease or to evaluate nutritional status, especially in hospitalised patients

When to get tested?

If your doctor thinks you have symptoms of liver or kidney disease, if you have a recent, rapid weight change, or prior to a planned surgery

Sample required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test preparation needed?

None

What is being tested?

Albumin is the most abundant protein in the blood plasma. It keeps fluid from leaking out of blood vessels; nourishes tissues; and carries hormones, vitamins, drugs, and ions like calcium throughout the body. Albumin is made in the liver and is sensitive to liver damage. The level of albumin in the blood drops when the liver is damaged, with a type of kidney disease called nephrotic syndrome, when a person is malnourished, if a person experiences severe inflammation in the body, or with shock. Albumin increases when a person is dehydrated.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by a needle from a vein.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

How is it used?

Since plasma albumin is low in many different diseases and disorders, albumin testing is used in a variety of settings to help diagnose disease, to monitor changes in health status with treatment or with disease progression, and as a screen that may serve as an indicator for other kinds of testing.

When is it requested?

A doctor requests a blood albumin test (usually along with several other tests) if a person seems to have symptoms of liver disorder or a kidney disorder called nephrotic syndrome.

Doctors may also request blood albumin tests when they want to check a person’s nutritional status, for example, when someone has lost a lot of weight. In this situation prealbumin levels tend to fall earlier than albumin levels.

What does the test result mean?

Looking for reference ranges?

Low albumin levels can suggest liver disease. Liver enzyme tests are requested to help determine which type of liver disease.

Low albumin levels can reflect diseases in which the kidneys cannot prevent albumin from leaking from the blood into the urine and being lost. In this case, the amount of albumin (or protein) in the urine also may be measured. Low albumin levels can also be seen in severe inflammation, shock and malnutrition.

Low albumin levels may also suggest conditions in which your body does not properly absorb and digest protein such as Crohn’s disease or in which large volumes of protein are lost from the intestine.

High albumin levels usually reflect dehydration although the test is not used for this purpose. Dehydration is usually assessed by physical examination.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you are receiving large amounts of intravenous fluids, the results of this test may be inaccurate.

Common Questions

Is anyone at high risk for abnormal albumin levels?

Individuals who have chronic liver disease and kidney disorders are at highest risk for developing abnormally low albumin levels. In addition, individuals whose intestine doesn't absorb nutrients properly and individuals who have prolonged diarrhoea can develop low albumin levels.

What is the difference between albumin, prealbumin and microalbumin tests?

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.

Albumin testing is more often used to test for liver or kidney disease or to learn if your body is not absorbing enough amino acids which are used to produce proteins such as albumin. Albumin can also be used to monitor nutritional status. However, prealbumin changes more quickly, making it more useful for detecting changes in short-term nutritional status than albumin.

The microalbumin or more accurately the UACR test measures very small levels of albumin in your urine and may indicate whether you are at risk for developing kidney disease. However, the term microalbumin is not used today and has been replaced by urine albumin.

Is there a home test for albumin?

No, not for blood albumin. You can test for urine albumin using a dipstick purchased from a pharmacy.