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Serum Protein Electrophoresis (SPEP)

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Serum protein electrophoresis 1
  Total serum protein amount in grams per deciliter (g/dL) Total serum protein amount in grams per liter (g/L) (SI units)
Albumin (adult)

3.8–5.0

38–50

Alpha-1 globulin

0.1–0.3

1–3

Alpha-2 globulin

0.6–1

6–10

Beta globulin

0.7–1.4

7–14

Gamma globulin

0.7–1.6

7–16

High values

High values may be caused by many conditions. Some of the most common are shown here.

  • High albumin: Dehydration
  • High alpha-1 globulin: Infection; inflammation
  • High alpha-2 globulin: Inflammation; kidney disease
  • High beta globulin: Very high cholesterol; low iron (iron-deficiency anemia)
  • High gamma globulin: Inflammation; infection; liver disease; some forms of cancer

Low values

Low values may be caused by many conditions. Some of the most common are shown here.

  • Low albumin: Poor nutrition; inflammation; liver disease; kidney disease
  • Low alpha-1 globulin: Severe inflammation; liver disease
  • Low alpha-2 globulin: Thyroid problems; liver disease
  • Low beta globulin: Poor nutrition
  • Low gamma globulin: Problems with the immune system

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • High levels of lipids (hyperlipidemia).
  • Iron deficiency anemia.
  • Some medicines, such as corticosteroids, insulin, cholesterol-lowering medicines (statins), and birth control pills.
  • Pregnancy.

What To Think About

  • Electrophoresis on protein in urine may also be done, especially if the results of the serum protein electrophoresis test are abnormal. Normally very little protein is found in urine, but certain diseases (such as multiple myeloma) cause large amounts of protein to leak into the urine.
  • Although abnormal protein levels may be found in many conditions (such as kidney disease, chronic liver disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, or leprosy), serum protein electrophoresis is usually not done to diagnose these conditions.
  • A special test can be done for one of the major parts of the alpha-1 globulin group (called alpha-1 antitrypsin). Alpha-1 antitrypsin inhibits enzymes in the lungs that break down protein. These enzymes can damage normal lung tissue and cause emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People born without the ability to produce alpha-1 antitrypsin may develop emphysema at the age of 30 or 40. This condition can be detected by testing them for alpha-1 antitrypsin. To learn more, see the topic Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Genetic Testing.
  • A test for total serum protein is often done at the same time as serum protein electrophoresis. To learn more, see the topic Total Serum Protein.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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