Overview of Hypoalbuminemia
Hypoalbuminemia happens when you don’t have enough of the protein albumin in your bloodstream.
Albumin is a protein that’s made in your liver. It’s an important protein in the plasma of your blood. Depending on your age, your body needs anywhere between 3.5 and 5.9 grams per deciliter (g/dL). Without enough albumin, your body can’t keep fluid from leaking out of your blood vessels.
Not having enough albumin can also make it harder to move important substances throughout your body. Some of these substances are used for essential processes to keep your body fluids in check.
Symptoms of hypoalbuminemia
Albumin is used throughout the body, and your symptoms may not be immediately apparent for this condition.
- Edema (fluid formation) in the legs or face.
- The skin may be rougher or drier than normal.
- Hair thinning
- Jaundice (yellow skin)
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling weak or exhausted
- Abnormal weight gain
- No more hunger
- Feeling nauseous
Your symptoms depend on the cause of the condition. For example, if your hypoalbuminemia is caused by a proper diet, your symptoms will gradually improve over time. If your hypoalbuminemia is a severe burn, you may notice some of these symptoms right away.
See your doctor if you feel tired or have trouble breathing without warning. Hypoalbuminemia also slows down growth in children.
Causes of hypoalbuminemia
Hypoalbuminemia is often caused by having inflammation throughout your body, such as if you have sepsis or recently had surgery. The inflammation can also come from exposure to medical interventions, such as being placed on a ventilator or bypass machine. This condition is referred to as capillary leak or third spacing.
Hypoalbuminemia usually happens in combination with not getting enough protein or calories in your diet.
Other common causes of hypoalbuminemia include:
- Getting a serious burn
- Having a vitamin deficiency
- Malnutrition and not eating a well-balanced diet.
- Not being able to properly absorb nutrients in your stomach.
- Receiving intravenous (iv) fluids while you’re in the hospital after surgery.
How it is diagnosed
Your doctor tests your albumin levels every time you get a full blood test. The most common test done to measure albumin is the serum albumin test. This test uses a blood sample to analyze your levels of albumin in a laboratory.
Your doctor can also measure how much albumin you’re passing in your urine. To do this, they use a test called the microalbuminuria test. This test is also sometimes called the albumin-to-creatinine (ACR) test. If you’re passing too much albumin in your urine, your kidneys may be damaged. Kidney damage can cause albumin to leak into your urine.
The C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test is especially useful for diagnosing hypoalbuminemia. The CRP test can tell your doctor how much inflammation is happening in your body. Inflammation is one of the most important indicators of hypoalbuminemia.
Hypoalbuminemia treatment options
While a doctor may be trying to find the cause of hypoalbuminemia and begin treatment, some strategies can reduce the risk of serious complications.
Some people may need medicine to increase their albumin levels. It contains albumin, which is administered intravenously.
- You can often treat hypoalbuminemia by raising your albumin levels to normal. Treatment may vary if a specific condition causes your hypoalbuminemia.
- Your doctor may recommend changing your diet if malnutrition is the cause of your condition. Protein-rich foods, including nuts, eggs, and dairy products, are good options for increasing your albumin levels.
- If you drink alcohol, your doctor may recommend that you drink less or stop drinking. Drinking alcohol will lower your blood protein levels and make your symptoms worse.
- Medications used to suppress your immune system can help prevent inflammation from lowering your albumin levels. Your doctor may prescribe medications or corticosteroid injections.
The best option for treating hypoalbuminemia is to address the cause. Therefore, people must perform a variety of tests to determine why they do not have enough albumin in their blood.
Treatment may include:
- Blood pressure medications for people with kidney disease or heart failure.
- Lifestyle changes, especially those with liver disease, should be avoided.
- Medicines to control chronic gastrointestinal diseases or to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Medicines such as antibiotics if a person has hypoalbuminemia after severe inflammation.
- Diet changes to reduce the severity of heart or kidney disease.
People with hypoalbuminemia due to organ failure may need an organ transplant. People with kidney disease may need dialysis because they are waiting for a kidney transplant. People with hypoalbuminemia should be hospitalized and monitored until the condition improves.
Hypoalbuminemia puts you at risk for developing other conditions, including:
- Pleural effusion, which occurs when fluid builds up around the lungs.
- Ascites, which occurs when fluid builds up in your abdomen.
- Atrophy, which significantly weakens the muscles.
Hypoalbuminemia is especially troublesome if it’s caught after surgery or after you’re admitted to the emergency room. Untreated hypoalbuminemia can significantly increase the risk of injury or fatal condition in these cases.