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What is Hypoproteinemia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hypoproteinemia is an unusually low concentration of protein in the blood, indicative of an underlying medical problem. A number of conditions can cause this disorder and many are treatable, with successful outcomes being more likely when treatment is provided in a timely fashion. This condition is diagnosed with a blood test to check on serum protein levels, and it is possible for a patient to have a specific form, like hypoalbuminemia, where levels of a particular protein, in this case albumin, are lower than they should be.

Routine blood testing sometimes identifies protein levels slightly lower than normal, and a doctor may recommend further testing to find out more if there is not an obvious cause. In other cases, a doctor may suspect hypoproteinemia and specifically request the test as part of a diagnostic workup, as in cases where a patient has symptoms of a disease associated with low blood protein. The test will also provide a breakdown of the concentrations of different kinds of proteins so doctors can see if the proportional values remain the same, or if one protein is unusually low or high.

One common cause of hypoproteinemia is kidney failure, where damaged kidneys start leaking proteins into the urine, causing proteinuria. Malnutrition can be a cause, with the patient not getting enough protein in the first place. Protein-losing enteropathies, where the gut eliminates protein instead of retaining it, are another potential reason to develop changes in blood protein. Lymphangiectasia, a widening of a lymph vessel, is an example of a protein-losing enteropathy. Severe burns have also been linked with hypoproteinemia.

When this symptom is identified, other information about the patient's condition will be used to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan. Sometimes, it can be as simple as making dietary changes to address a patient's nutritional needs. In other instances, medications may be needed to treat the cause, or the patient may need surgery. Follow-up testing can be used to see if the protein levels are increasing in response to treatment. If the patient fails to improve, more diagnostic testing may be needed to see if the patient has comorbidities interfering with the treatment regimen.

In the long term, hypoproteinemia can be dangerous. The lack of protein in the blood will lead to muscle wasting and other problems. The untreated underlying condition can also become worse and may develop complications. If patients are allowed to become extremely ill, a cascading series of medical problems can develop and there is a risk of death.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon289067 — On Sep 02, 2012

I am a survivor of celiac disease who has been off gluten for about nine years, but still appear to have protein-losing enteropathy. The primary condition associated with celiac has been Hashimoto's/hypothyroidism, which has been corrected.

My PCP discovered that I have a blood protein level that is just below the bottom of the normal range. The primary symptom of protein deficiency has been middle insomnia. I figured out on my own that use of a free-form essential amino acid supplement (9 aminos, about 12 grams total when I wake up) is a very effective treatment that allows me to get back to sleep. There are a number of essential amino acid blends, with relative amounts of aminos based on a commonly-known formula, available on the market.

By burcinc — On Dec 24, 2011

@simrin-- I think even in more serious conditions like kidney failure, albumin infusions are given until surgery can take place or if it's another kind of disorder, until medications and new diet can start replacing the lost protein.

My close buddy has PLE (Protein Losing Enteropathy) and when he was diagnosed he was given a lot of albumin infusions until his medicines could start working. He couldn't maintain a high amount of protein in his blood because his intestines didn't absorb protein molecules well. So he relied on infusions until his treatment started and even after he's been getting infusions from time to time.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 23, 2011

This might not work for all hypoproteinemia causes, but for dietary causes or things like burns and bleeding, wouldn't a protein supplement or protein infusion be enough to treat the problem?

I understand that this wouldn't work too well for a condition like kidney failure because the protein that's infused into the blood would soon be lost. So it could be a temporary treatment at best.

But I think it would be enough to treat hypoproteinemia caused by bleeding or large burns. Am I right?

By serenesurface — On Dec 23, 2011

My aunt has been dealing with this for some time now. It really is a difficult condition to live with. Some of the side effects can make even day to day activities difficult for her.

The main symptom she's been experiencing is fluid accumulation. I think when there is not enough protein in the bloodstream, the water that's supposed to be in the blood accumulates elsewhere and causes swelling and bloating.

My aunt has a lot of water accumulation around her stomach and legs which not only makes it hard for her to fit into her clothes, but it also makes it painful to move around sometimes. She's had the accumulated water drained out at the hospital several times, but it's a long process and it's not possible for her to keep having this done.

She's currently on a new set of medications and she told me she's doing a little better with them. But her protein levels are still not where they should be. It's really hard for her, I hope she'll be able to overcome this condition one day and live her life normally again.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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