Albumin is a blood plasma component produced by the liver. It is the largest protein of blood that helps ensure the blood stays in the arteries and veins and transports hormones, vitamins, and enzymes throughout the body. Some diseases may decrease the amount of albumin in the blood. This condition, known as hypoalbuminemia, requires medical treatment because it may interfere with the healing of serious illnesses and cause a variety of health problems.
What Is Albumin Therapy?
Albumin therapy is a widely used method of increasing blood albumin levels in patients diagnosed with hypoalbuminemia. Albumin therapy can be administered in two ways: infusion and oral supplements. In both cases, an external source of albumin is used, which will increase the amount of albumin or stimulate the natural production of albumin in the patients’ body.
Albumin infusion therapy is performed in a hospital by a doctor or other medical staff under the supervision of a doctor. During treatment, the doctor will give the patients an intravenous infusion of albumin. During the procedure, the medical team will continue to monitor the patients’ pulse, breath, electrolyte levels, and blood pressure. Following intravenous administration, albumin infusion fluid will disperse immediately and reach all lymphatic and vascular cavities within 7 to 10 days.
Oral albumin supplement therapy uses a medicine made from an extract of snakehead fish (Ophiocephalus striatus) that is taken by mouth. Snakehead fish is known to contain a high level of albumin, making it a key ingredient in oral albumin supplements. Albumin supplementation for the treatment of hypoalbuminemia is usually given at a dose of 2 x 500 milligrams per day for 4 to 6 days.
Knowing the Condition of Hypoalbuminemia and Its Causes
Age determines the normal amount of albumin in the human body. Normal albumin levels in adults generally range from 3.4 to 5.4 g/dl. People 7 months of age and older are said to have hypoalbuminemia if their albumin level is less than 3.4 g/dl. Meanwhile, infants younger than 7 months are said to have hypoalbuminemia if their albumin level is less than 2.5 g/dl. However, so far there has been no definitive global agreement on how much albumin is too low or too high.
Hypoalbuminemia can be detected through a blood test. Hypoalbuminemia is not a disease, but a symptom or consequence of a disease. If the albumin level is low, the patient’s disease may be advanced or severe. Albumin level is one of the factors that determine the risk of death of hospitalized patients.
The causes of hypoalbuminemia are as follows:
- Inflammation, infection, and chronic diseases
The most common cause of hypoalbuminemia is inflammation. When an illness or injury occurs, the body responds naturally through inflammation, resulting in a decrease in albumin production.
People who eat less protein are said to be more prone to hypoalbuminemia. However, the albumin levels of malnourished individuals are not always lower, except in the case of kwashiorkor, a condition in which the body is severely deficient in protein.
- Liver disease
Because albumin is produced in the liver, liver disease may disrupt albumin production and cause hypoalbuminemia.
- Kidney disease
Impaired kidneys will excrete more albumin in the urine. Therefore, blood levels of albumin in patients with kidney disease tend to decrease.
- Protein losing enteropathy
Protein losing enteropathy is a condition in which a large amount of protein, including albumin, is leaked into the intestines. This condition may occur with celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, which is linked with the intestines. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus may also cause protein losing enteropathy.
- Heart failure
Hypoalbuminemia is common in patients with heart failure due to a variety of factors, including inflammation, impaired liver function, and protein losing enteropathy.
- Severe burns
Severe burns damage the blood vessels near the surface of the skin. The blood fluid that penetrates these wounds carries albumin, which reduces the amount of albumin in the body.
- Genetic problems
Mutations and variants in the albumin gene may result in low albumin levels. This congenital disease is rare.
What Are Hypoalbuminemia Complications?
Albumin protein deficiency causes leakage of body fluids from the blood vessels. The lack of albumin also results in uneven distribution of important substances needed by the body, thus disrupting the body system. If left untreated, hypoalbuminemia complications may occur, such as:
- Respiratory disorders
- Accumulation of fluid in the legs, lungs, and abdomen
- Muscle damage
- Developmental disorders in children aged 1 to 5 years
- Effects of a serious illness treatment are interfered
How to Treat and Prevent Hypoalbuminemia?
Hypoalbuminemia treatment and prevention efforts are focused on the underlying disease. Therefore, hypoalbuminemia treatment varies from person to person. For example, patients with kidney problems are often prescribed with antihypertensive drugs that can prevent the excretion of albumin in the urine. Medicines that suppress the immune system can also help prevent a decrease in albumin levels due to inflammation.
If the underlying disease has gone or is controlled, albumin levels will usually return to normal. In the treatment of the disease, albumin infusion therapy or albumin supplementation may be used to increase the amount of albumin externally.
Patients will also be asked to stay away from alcohol, as alcohol can lower blood protein and worsen symptoms. In addition, doctors will advise the patients to follow a balanced diet. There are high-protein foods that can increase albumin levels, including fish, beef, eggs, nuts, and milk. Patients can consult a nutritionist for nutritional therapy.
Nutritional Therapy, Oral Supplements, and Infusion Therapy. How to Choose?
There are three types of therapy to increase albumin levels: nutritional, oral supplements, and infusion. Nutritional therapy can always be an option among the three. The application of a balanced diet in nutritional therapy may be combined with the use of oral supplements or albumin infusion.
Compared to oral albumin supplements, several studies have shown that albumin infusion is more effective in increasing albumin levels in patients with hypoalbuminemia. However, the cost of albumin infusion is relatively higher than that of oral supplements. Albumin infusion should also only be administered by trained medical personnel in hospitals.
Patients may choose oral supplements or infusion therapy to treat hypoalbuminemia with doctor’s recommendation. This recommendation is based on the results of the patients’ examination, including test results that show how much the decrease of albumin levels. Generally, if the albumin levels are very low, doctors will immediately recommend the use of albumin infusion therapy, which can rapidly increase the albumin levels.