Albumin is the most common protein found in blood plasma. It helps to ensure blood stays in arteries and veins, and helps to carry hormones, vitamins, and enzymes throughout the body. This substance is produced in the liver and quickly carried to the bloodstream.
Low albumin levels in the blood may indicate serious liver and kidney problems. High levels, known as hyperalbuminemia, can be a sign of dehydration, diarrhea, or other conditions. Healthcare providers will often measure albumin levels in diagnosing or treating conditions.
This article explains how albumin works, and what blood test results may mean. It also explains the conditions that may be diagnosed when albumin levels are outside of their normal ranges.
Table of Contents
Albumin in the Body
Proteins are some of the most important substances in the body and are intimately involved in numerous bodily processes. Among these, albumin plays several important and essential roles. They include:
- Blood plasma: Because of its larger molecular size, albumin is able to attract water and other molecules, which helps to ensure proper blood pressure in the veins.
- Ligand delivery: Ligands are molecules produced in the body that are essential for the cells and chemicals involved in the function of bodily systems.
- Drug delivery: This molecule also carries certain drugs through the bloodstream. These include methadone, propranolol, thiopental, furosemide, warfarin, methotrexate, and many others.
What Is the Albumin Normal Range?
A healthy range for albumin in blood supply is defined as between 3.4 and 5.4 grams per deciliter (g/dL), though there may be some variations based on the testing facility.
Abnormal Albumin Levels
Albumin plays an important role in the body, and abnormal levels of this protein can not only cause health problems but can be signs of other issues. That said, in other, rarer cases, healthy people will have abnormal levels.
Some conditions associated with abnormal albumin levels include:
- Kidney problems: Impaired kidney function, especially chronic kidney disease (CKD), leads to lower than normal levels. Kidney disease can also result in albumin spilling into the urine, known as microalbuminuria.
- Liver diseases: Lower levels of albumin are also seen in cases of liver diseases such as hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver often due to viral infection. It's also seen in liver cirrhosis, a scarring of liver tissue due to chronic hepatitis or excessive alcohol use, and jaundice, a yellowing of eyes and skin.
- Crohn’s disease: A persistent and damaging inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, Crohn’s disease leads to difficulties with nutrient absorption. In these cases, albumin levels are low.
- Celiac disease: This is an autoimmune disorder in which foods with gluten, such as wheat, barley, or rye, cause white blood cells to attack the lining of the small intestine. It leads to low albumin levels.
- Thyroid disease: A host of diseases can affect the thyroid gland, which can cause immune system problems. These issues lead to lower levels of albumin.
- Whipple disease: This rare bacterial infection affects joints and the digestive system, impairing the body’s ability to digest food. In these cases, albumin levels will be lower than normal.
- Malnutrition: Decreased levels of albumin in the blood may also be signs of malnutrition.
- Dehydration: Insufficient water in the body will cause albumin levels to be elevated.
- Weight loss surgery: Following weight loss surgery, which reduces the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, albumin levels may be elevated.
- High protein diet: In those with very high-protein diets, lower levels of albumin are seen.
- Medications and therapies: Some medications, including insulin, hormones, and steroids, will raise levels; others, such as birth control pills, will lower them.
Albumin in Urine
Albumin in urine can be a sign of a developing health condition, including kidney disease. It also may point to an underlying cause, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular (heart-related) disease. At lower levels, it's called microalbuminuria. At higher levels, it's known as albuminuria or proteinuria. Treatment will depend on the cause.
The Albumin Blood Test (ALB)
Albumin blood tests are usually recommended if liver or kidney dysfunction is suspected. It is also part of standard screening of sugar levels and digestive health called a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), which is often a component of an annual physical.
During the Test
For the test, a sample of blood is drawn from a vein in the person’s arm. It is safe and well-tolerated, with only a sting when the needle pierces the skin. Other than some potential bruising, there are no risks when samples are collected safely.
Results typically take some time, as the blood may need to be sent off to a separate facility for testing.
Albumin test results are reported in comparison with a normal reference range, usually between 3.4 and 5.4 g/dL. If your results fall outside of this range, your healthcare provider will know that you may have liver, kidney, or other digestive issues.
This may mean imaging and additional diagnostic testing if kidney, intestinal, or liver problems are suspected. You also may need a diet and nutrition analysis and, if needed, pharmaceutical or surgical treatment. When getting your albumin test results, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare provider to explain what they mean.
Keep in mind that low or high levels don’t necessarily mean that you have health problems. Following abnormal results—and along with data from other tests—the healthcare provider will be able to consider the next steps in diagnosis or treatment.
Does Coffee Affect Albumin Levels?
Some research evidence, in both humans and animals, suggests that coffee consumption may lower blood levels of albumin. For example, polyphenols in coffee may offer benefits to people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Other studies suggest green tea may have effects too, but more research is needed.
Albumin may be used in fluid resuscitation, a procedure that replaces blood or other bodily fluids in emergency situations. In this procedure, an albumin infusion is delivered directly to the body via an intravenous line (IV).
While there is some debate about the clinical efficacy of this approach as compared to others, this protein’s ability to improve pressure inside veins—as well as its shorter half-life—make it an option worth considering.
Conditions that may need to be treated with fluid resuscitation include:
- Hypovolemic shock: Resuscitation is most often employed in cases of hypovolemic shock, which is when the body has lost 20% or more of its blood volume. As such, this approach is part of treatment for puncture wounds or other injuries.
- Sepsis: This very dangerous condition is a system-wide inflammation caused by an immune response. It leads to a range of symptoms, including fever, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, fast heart rate, and confusion. If untreated, this disease can harm multiple organ systems.
- Liver transplant: Fluid resuscitation with albumin is often also necessary during liver transplantation.
- Liver problems: If a patient has liver problems, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, and requires fluid resuscitation, albumin solution is considered a salient option.
A Word From Verywell
Albumin is an important part of the body. It's also an essential medical tool, both as a marker of health and as a means of treatment. When you see results for an albumin test in your medical record, ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions as to its significance.