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Albumin

Albumin

Albumin is a protein that makes up a large portion of one’s blood plasma. Albumin is produced in the liver, and its production is stimulated and fueled by foods that are high in protein.  Albumin serves many different functions, but is primarily used to control the flow of substances through semi-permeable cells in the blood.  Albumin level abnormalities can occur due to many different factors, including the presence of a medical condition that affects the kidneys or the liver, malnutrition, an inability to process protein, or physical and psychological stress.

Causes of Albumin Deficiency

  • Liver disease: The liver is responsible producing albumin.  Therefore, a liver disease is likely to affect the level of albumin found in the blood.  Symptoms of low albumin due to liver disease may include yellowing of the skin (jaundice), fatigue, and nausea.
  • Kidney disease: The kidneys may be contributing to low blood levels of albumin by filtering it out of the blood.  When this happens the albumin is redirected to the urine and is passed out of the body.  Changes in urine may point to a problem with the kidneys.
  • Malnutrition:  The liver needs protein to be able to produce albumin.  If an individual is malnourished and does not eat enough or does not eat enough protein-rich food, the level of albumin in the blood will go down.  Malnutrition is often seen in older adults who are not responsible for their own food intake, neglected children, and individuals who have medical conditions such as anorexia nervosa.  Individuals not only need to eat enough protein, but also enough calories.  If one is eating too few calories the protein that they eat will be used for energy rather than for albumin production. 
  • Stress: Psychological and physical stress can cause albumin production to decrease and for current levels of albumin to be depleted by processing them out of the blood as it passes through the liver.  The inflammation that often occurs with physical stress contributes to this process.  Individuals who are in shock, who undergo surgery, or who lose a lot of blood are sometime given an injection of albumin.


Blood Test

An albumin blood test is commonly ordered as part of an assessment of an individual’s overall health.  The test is also ordered for individuals who are concerned about or have a history of liver or kidney disease.  Abnormally high levels of albumin in the blood are not commonly seen and are most often caused by dehydration.  Albumin makes up a larger percentage of the blood when water from the blood plasma is low.  When water is reintroduced, the albumin levels usually return to normal.  More commonly seen are abnormally low albumin levels.  Low levels can suggest impairment in liver or kidney functioning and can also point to malnutrition or stress.  The blood test is one step toward understanding an individual’s overall health, but cannot be used to diagnose a specific medical condition.  If one has an abnormal test result, further testing is needed to determine the specific cause of the abnormality. 

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