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Protein electrophoresis - serum

Definition

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

See also:

Alternative Names

Lipoprotein electrophoresis

How the test is performed

A blood sample is needed. For information on giving a blood sample from a vein, see venipuncture.

Electrophoresis is a laboratory technique. The blood serum (the liquid part of the blood without the cells) is placed on specially treated paper and exposed to an electric current. The proteins in the serum move on the paper to form bands that show the proportion of each protein fraction. A fraction may contain several different types of proteins.

Individual proteins, except albumin, are not usually measured. However, protein fractions or groups ARE measured. The levels of protein fractions can be estimated by measuring the total serum protein and then multiplying that by the relative percentage of each protein fraction.

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

How to prepare for the test

You may be asked not to eat or drink for 12 hours before a lipoprotein electrophoresis test.

Your health care provider may ask you to stop taking drugs that could affect the test. Do not stop taking any medications without first talking to your health care provider.

Drugs that can affect the measurement of total proteins include chlorpromazine, corticosteroids, isoniazid, neomycin, phenacemide, salicylates, sulfonamides, and tolbutamide.

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 sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

Proteins are made from amino acids and are important components 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, but 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.

Normal Values

  • Total protein: 6.4 to 8.3 g/dL
  • 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

Note: g/dL = grams per deciliter

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

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:

  • Acute inflammation
  • Chronic inflammation

Decreased alpha-2 globulin proteins may indicate:

Increased beta globulin proteins may indicate:

Decreased beta globulin proteins may indicate:

Increased gamma globulin proteins may indicate:

Note: Blood test results may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What the risks are

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

 Rajkumar SV. Plasma cell disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 193.

Review Date: 2/8/2012
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Palm Beach Cancer Institute, West Palm Beach, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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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