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Protein electrophoresis - serum

Definition

This lab test measures the types of protein in the fluid (serum) part of a blood sample.

Other electrophoresis tests that measure proteins in the serum include:

  • Immunoelectrophoresis
  • Immunofixation
  • Globulin electrophoresis

Alternative Names

Lipoprotein electrophoresis

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

At the lab, the technician places the blood sample on special paper and applies an electric current. The proteins move on the paper and form bands that show the amount of each protein.

How to Prepare for the Test

You may be asked not to eat or drink (fast) for 12 hours before the test.

Certain medicines may affect the results of this test. Your doctor will tell you if you need to stop taking any medicines. Do not stop any medicine before talking to your doctor.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. This soon goes away.

Why the Test is Performed

Proteins are made from amino acids and are important parts of all cells and tissues. There are many different kinds of proteins in the body with many different functions. Examples of proteins include enzymes, certain hormones, hemoglobin, low-density lipoprotein ("bad" cholesterol), and others.

Serum proteins are classified as albumin or globulins. Albumin is the protein of highest concentration in the serum. It carries many small molecules. It is also important for keeping fluid from leaking out from the blood vessels into the tissues.

Globulins are divided into alpha-1, alpha-2, beta, and gamma globulins. In general, alpha and gamma globulin protein levels increase when there is inflammation in the body.

Lipoprotein electrophoresis determines the amount of proteins made up of protein and fat, called lipoproteins (such as LDL cholesterol).

Normal Results

Normal value ranges are:

  • Total protein: 6.4 to 8.3 g/dL (grams per deciliter)
  • Albumin: 3.5 to 5.0 g/dL
  • Alpha-1 globulin: 0.1 to 0.3 g/dL
  • Alpha-2 globulin: 0.6 to 1.0 g/dL
  • Beta globulin: 0.7 to 1.2 g/dL
  • Gamma globulin: 0.7 to 1.6 g/dL

The examples above are common measurements for results of these tests. Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Decreased total protein may indicate:

Increased alpha-1 globulin proteins may be due to:

Decreased alpha-1 globulin proteins may be a sign of:

Increased alpha-2 globulin proteins may indicate a:

  • Acute inflammation
  • Chronic inflammation

Decreased alpha-2 globulin proteins may indicate:

Increased beta globulin proteins may indicate:

  • A disorder in which the body has problems breaking down fats (for example, hyperlipoproteinemia, familial hypercholesterolemia)
  • Estrogen therapy

Decreased beta globulin proteins may indicate:

  • Abnormally low level of LDL cholesterol 
  • Malnutrition

Increased gamma globulin proteins may indicate:

Risks

There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

McPherson R. Specific proteins. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 19.


Review Date: 2/24/2014
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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