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Total Protein

Alternate Names

  • serum total protein

Definition

A total protein test measures the total amount of protein in the blood. There are two major types of proteins in the blood: albumin and globulin. A change in the level of either type of protein may cause an abnormal total protein value.

Who is a candidate for the test?

Total protein may be measured for many different reasons. For example, a healthcare professional may measure total protein if he or she suspects or finds:
  • abnormal swelling in the body
  • certain types of blood cancer
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • nutritional problems, including malnutrition

How is the test performed?

To measure total protein in the bloodstream, a blood sample is needed. Blood is usually taken from a vein on the forearm or hand. First, the skin over the vein is cleaned with an antiseptic. Next, a strong rubber tube, or tourniquet, is wrapped around the upper arm. This enlarges the veins in the lower arm by restricting blood flow through them. A fine needle is gently inserted into a vein, and the tourniquet is removed. Blood flows from the vein through the needle and is collected in a syringe or vial. The blood is then sent to the laboratory for testing. After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding.

What is involved in preparation for the test?

Specific instructions are available from a healthcare professional. Generally, no preparation is required.

What do the test results mean?

Normally, protein levels in the blood serum range from around 6.0 to 8.3 grams per deciliter. These values are different in younger children.
High total protein levels may result from:
  • arthritis
  • chronic infections
  • dehydration
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow
  • leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow
  • vomiting and diarrhea
Low total protein levels may be due to:
  • blood loss
  • cirrhosis and other liver diseases
  • congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart fails to pump enough blood
  • eclampsia, a serious condition causing high blood pressure in pregnant women
  • kidney disease
  • leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow
  • malabsorption, inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines
  • malnutrition
  • severe burns
  • poisoning
  • prolonged, severe illness
  • shock, a condition resulting in lowered blood flow to vital organs
  • uncontrolled diabetes
The individual laboratory results for albumin and globulin are helpful in interpreting an abnormal total protein level.

Sources

Sobel, D., MD&Ferguson, T., MD (1985). The People's Book of Medical Tests. New York: Summit Books.

The American Dietetic Association Practice Group: The Consultant Dietitians in Health Care Facilities-Professional Development Committee. (1994). Pocket Resource for Nutrition Assessment.

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