Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.
What Is Albumin?
Albumin is a pretty funny sounding word, but in reality, it's a fairly important protein that is made by the liver. When the liver or kidneys are not functioning well, albumin levels may be out of whack, but more on that later. For now, let's take a closer look at how this protein contributes to your overall health.
Think of the cells in your body as tiny fluid-filled sacs. If these tiny sacs, or cells, lose too much fluid, they shrivel, and if they have too much fluid, they explode. Obviously exploding or shriveling cells are not good, so your body tries to keep your cells just right. And how does your body accomplish this? Well, this is where albumin comes into play. Although albumin isn't fully responsible for keeping the fluid level in your cells just right, it does play a major part.
Albumin helps transport substances through your blood, mainly calcium, progesterone, and bilirubin. While you've probably heard of calcium, progesterone and bilirubin may be a bit more foreign to you. In women, progesterone is involved in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy; in men progesterone is the precursor to other hormones, like testosterone. Bilirubin is produced when red blood cells are broken down, and if they're not transported appropriately, certain problems can arise. For example, if bilirubin levels are too high, you may notice a yellowing of your skin or eyes, known as jaundice. This is often seen in newborn babies.
When Is the Test Ordered?
Oftentimes, albumin tests are ordered as a general health screening. Most times a simple blood test is all that that's needed to measure albumin levels, as it's found in the blood's plasma, or the clear portion of blood. An albumin test may also be ordered if you're having certain medical problems too, such as:
- Swelling in the abdomen region
- Unexplained loss of appetite and weight
Low & High Albumin
Let's now talk a bit about low and high levels of albumin. Levels below 3.5 g/dL are considered low, although this value may vary depending upon the laboratory and the age of the patient. For example, the normal level for children is between 4 to 5.9 g/dL, and even these ranges can vary.
Albumin levels may be low if a person has liver or kidney problems, but also if they're malnourished. There is a wide array of possible reasons albumin may be low including:
- Kidney or liver disease
- Poor nutrition
- Heart failure
- Hypothyroidism (the thyroid isn't working correctly)
- Certain diets with low levels of protein
Things are a bit different when it comes to high levels of albumin. Levels above 5.5 g/dL are considered high for adults. High levels of albumin are associated with less of an array of reasons. Some of the possible reasons albumin may be high include:
- A diet high in protein
- Severe burns
- Certain medications like steroids, insulin, and growth hormones.
Let's review. Albumin is a protein made by the liver and is responsible for keeping your cells filled with the right amount of fluid, like calcium, progesterone, and bilirubin. A normal range for an adult is 3.5 - 5.5 g/dL and 4 - 5.9 g/dL in children, but remember, values can vary depending on the lab completing the test. The test for albumin levels can be ordered as part of a routine health screening, or if a person is having certain medical problems such as jaundice, fatigue, weight and appetite loss, or swelling in abdomen.
Low-levels of albumin can indicate a wide array of things, such as kidney or liver problems, malnutrition, low protein diets, cancer, surgery, and inflammation. High-levels of albumin can be the result of certain medications, dehydration, or severe burns.
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