Hypoalbuminemia Medication

Updated: May 07, 2018
  • Author: Ruben Peralta, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Michael R Pinsky, MD, CM, Dr(HC), FCCP, MCCM  more...
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Medication Summary

Hypoalbuminemia is a common phenomenon in patients with serious illness. Treatment should focus on the underlying cause rather than simply replacing albumin. Exogenous albumin is not used for the purpose of raising serum albumin levels.

Indications and the use of albumin administration in critically ill patients is an area of controversy; studies to clarify these issues are ongoing. [3] Two major clinical trials compared albumin as a volume expander to crystalloids in the management of circulatory shock. Neither study specifically addressed the management of hypoalbuminemia. Both the SAFE [4] and the ALBIOS study [5] compared crystalloid to albumin infusions, and both documented a small but statically significant increase in serum albumin levels.

A separate question is whether or not albumin as a resuscitation fluid is useful as a volume expander or harmful for unrelated reasons. Although prior meta-analysis of small heterogeneous studies suggested that albumin infusions may be harmful as a volume expansion resuscitation fluid (increasing the mortality rate by 6% compared with crystalloid), the two large multicenter clinical trials (SAFE, ABLIOS) documented that, except in the SAFE trial, patients with neurotrauma had a worse  outcome, [4] whereas in the ABLIOS trial, patients with septic shock did better with albumin as a volume expander. [5] In patients with neurotrauma, these trials found a small, but significant, increase in mortality compared with crystalloid therapy. However, neither trial was focused on treating hypoalbuminemia, but rather resuscitation from circulatory shock. In fact, outcomes are similar regardless of baseline serum albumin concentration; albumin administration for patients with hypoalbuminemia has no added benefit. Based on these studies of patients with septic shock, the benefit of colloid versus crystalloid administration for critically ill patients is not clearly demonstrated. Furthermore, the relative amount of albumin that can be effectively replenished by infusion is minimal, considering the normal albumin turnover rate.

These findings are in contrast to prior studies that also found no difference or increased mortality among those receiving albumin. Preliminary studies, including a favorable study by Dubois (2006), examined the effect of albumin on organ function in critically ill patients, but additional work is needed in this area. [6]

For patients with hypoalbuminemia and critical illness, the administration of albumin has not been shown to reduce mortality. [7]

Limited indications for albumin supplementation exist, and considerable clinical judgment is required when albumin is administered. Albumin has been used as one part of regimens designed to prevent hepatorenal syndrome in patients with cirrhosis in whom forced diuresis is being performed; however, this is controversial and survival benefit has not been clearly established. However, in general, albumin is not given specifically to treat hypoalbuminemia, which is a marker for serious disease.

Like crystalloids, colloids produce a dilutional effect on hemoglobin and clotting factors. Clinicians need to monitor the appropriate parameters to safeguard against iatrogenic complications.

Considering fluid resuscitation more generally, recent investigation found that 6% hydroxyethyl starch used for resuscitation in patients with severe sepsis was associated with a significant increase in acute renal failure, calling this approach into question.

The most effective method of minimizing hypoalbuminemia and restoring serum oncotic pressure is by creating a positive nitrogen balance. This is usually accomplished by enteral protein feeding and reversing the inflammatory state, if present. Clearly, those patients with nephrotic syndrome need the nephrosis treated as a primary problem. The importance of enteral nutrition as an early and continued treatment for hypoalbuminemia cannot be overemphasized.