Serum Albumin Levels: Who Needs Them?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: The purpose of this critical narrative review is to discuss common indications for ordering serum albumin levels in adult critically ill patients, evaluate the literature supporting these indications, and provide recommendations for the appropriate ordering of serum albumin levels. Data Sources: PubMed (1966 to August 2020), Cochrane Library, and current clinical practice guidelines were used, and bibliographies of retrieved articles were searched for additional articles. Study Selection and Data Extraction: Current clinical practice guidelines were the preferred source of recommendations regarding serum albumin levels for guiding albumin administration and for nutritional monitoring. When current comprehensive reviews were available, they served as a baseline information with supplementation by subsequent studies. Data Synthesis: Serum albumin is a general marker of severity of illness, and hypoalbuminemia is associated with poor patient outcome, but albumin is an acute phase protein, so levels vacillate in critically ill patients in conjunction with illness fluctuations. The most common reasons for ordering serum albumin levels in intensive care unit (ICU) settings are to guide albumin administration, to estimate free phenytoin or calcium levels, for nutritional monitoring, and for severity-of-illness assessment. Relevance to Patient Care and Clinical Practice: Because hypoalbuminemia is common in the ICU setting, inappropriate ordering of serum albumin levels may lead to unnecessary albumin administration or excessive macronutrient administration in nutritional regimens, leading to possible adverse effects and added costs. Conclusions: With the exception of the need to order serum albumin levels as a component of selected severity-of-illness scoring systems, there is little evidence or justification for routinely ordering levels in critically ill patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)798-804
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Pharmacotherapy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • critical care
  • human serum albumin
  • laboratory
  • nutritional status
  • plasma protein binding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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