Albumin is a blood protein. The word "albumin" comes from the Latin for egg white (egg white contains albumin, which is one reason why eggs are a rich source of protein). Albumin is produced in the liver. It is important in the maintenance of blood consistency and regulating blood pressure, and in the transmission of certain nutrients through the bloodstream. It's reasonable to say that this is a very important substance in the blood.
A test for albumin is useful in the diagnosis of many different illnesses. Low levels of albumin can be an indicator of kidney dysfunction. That's because healthy kidneys that are functioning properly leave albumin in the blood for the most part while removing waste substances. A low serum albumin level combined with the detection of higher than normal levels of albumin in urine shows that the kidneys are not doing this properly.
Other causes of low albumin include certain liver diseases such as liver cancer or hepatitis. This can interfere with the production of albumin. If liver dysfunction is the cause of low albumin levels instead of kidney disease, one should not expect to see elevated urine albumin at the same time. Some heart conditions may also cause low albumin, including congestive heart failure. Inflammatory bowel disease, lymphoma, and certain other digestive disorders can result in low albumin. Some infections (aside from infectious hepatitis), such as tuberculosis, can result in low albumin levels. And finally, the condition can result as a side effect of certain medications.
Low Albumin And Calcium
One of the important functions of albumin in the bloodstream is to bind calcium molecules as a reserve. It's estimated that 60 percent of the calcium in the blood is unbound and free-floating, with an electrical charge (ionized). This ionized calcium is crucial for muscle activity and some other bodily functions. The other 40 percent of calcium in the blood is bound to proteins, with most of it bound to albumin. However, this bound calcium does not directly play a part in physiological functioning. Rather, it acts as a reserve so that when the blood's supply of unbound calcium drops too low, calcium is released from its bound state to raise the blood calcium level so that bodily functioning is unimpaired. Except at very severe levels, or when other factors are present that lower blood calcium levels, it's unlikely that low albumin will result in dangerously low calcium levels in the blood.
Symptoms Of Low Albumin
In many cases, low albumin is asymptomatic. When it reaches a point where symptoms appear, however, they can include loss of appetite, swelling in the legs and other parts of the body, muscular weakness, fatigue, and cramps. Much depends on the cause of the low albumin levels.
If the cause is kidney dysfunction, other symptoms related to kidney failure may arise. These can include reduced urinary flow, dizziness, nausea, swelling in the abdominal area, skin discoloration, disorientation. If the cause is liver disease, some of the same symptoms may occur, along with jaundice and general fatigue. Either of these causes is potentially fatal if allowed to progress indefinitely, and so low albumin levels can be an important diagnostic indicator.
Treatment Of Low Albumin
Treatment of low albumin generally involves treating the underlying cause, and so will vary according to what that cause is. Behavioral changes and lifestyle changes are often indicated to help arrest the progression of kidney or liver disease. A change in medication may be called for if the low albumin levels are resulting from a side effect of medication. One lifestyle change that is almost always indicated is to avoid alcohol. That's obviously going to be the case if the low albumin is found to indicate alcoholic liver disease, but with low albumin it is a common recommendation even when that isn't the cause.
A change in diet to gradually lose weight may be necessary. A special diet for the treatment of chronic kidney disease may be needed. If the underlying cause is related to diabetes, diet and exercise regimens to treat that condition may help in treating the kidney or liver disease, and so will have an effect on measured albumin levels.
If the cause is an infection, a cancer, or a side effect of medication, then of course appropriate treatments for those diseases or problems will be recommended instead. In fact, as low albumin is a diagnostic indicator rather than an illness in itself, and as it can indicate any of several underlying conditions, there is no one proper treatment for the condition and it will depend on the circumstances what treatment is prescribed by a doctor.
Monitoring of the condition is also required, and further tests for albumin as well as other blood tests may be called for to verify the effectiveness of treatment.
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