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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.