What Are the Causes of Low Serum Protein?

Written by elizabeth streeter | 13/05/2017
What Are the Causes of Low Serum Protein?
Fingersticks and needles are used to test serum protein levels. (lab kit image by PHOTOFLY from Fotolia.com)

During a normal doctor's visit, she may order a series of lab tests to determine health status. These tests screen patients for detail regarding overall health, including seeking out information about protein levels. She may also order these test when symptoms like unexplained weight loss manifest, according to the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC). In the absence of symptoms, information about protein levels help diagnose hidden or potential health problems.


When digested, the body breaks down proteins into amino acids. These amino acids circulate throughout the body within the blood, where they are taken to various parts of the body and used for a variety of functions. Amino acids are not only the building blocks of muscles; they also are an important component of enzymes, antibodies and hormones, says the AACC


According to St. John's Mercy Health Care, two major types of proteins are present in the blood: globulins and albumin. The liver produces albumin. This protein prevents blood from seeping through the vessels as well as assist in carrying substances throughout the body, says the AACC. Globulins also help carry substances. Both the liver and immune system produces globulins. These proteins bind with haemoglobin to help transport iron, according to the AACC. Globulin proteins also include antibodies, making them an important part of the immune system, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


To identify low serum protein, blood must be drawn either by fingerstick or by needle. The blood is then sent to a laboratory where a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) will be performed. CMPs identify total protein levels from the blood sample, according to the AACC. Normal serum protein levels fall between 6.0 grams/decilitre and 8.3 grams/decilitre, according the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Low serum protein levels would dip below those levels.


Multiple diseases and condition induce low serum protein levels. Malnutrition may responsible for some cases. Digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and Celiac disease may cause malabsorption, which also contribute to low protein levels, according to the AACC. In other cases, impaired organ function may be to blame like liver and kidney function, says the AACC, Examples of conditions that influence liver and kidney function include cirrhosis and nephrotic syndrome.


Diseases aren't the only factor that influences protein levels. Low serum protein levels may also be caused conditions like dehydration and pregnancy. Medications may also cause the levels to dip below normal. Certain types of oestrogen and birth control pills decrease protein levels, according to the AACC.

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