Blood tests for people on dialysis: Understanding the results

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Blood tests for people on dialysis: Understanding the results

If you're on dialysis, your doctor will monitor your condition with blood tests.

Dialysis is an artificial way to remove waste products and extra fluid from your blood when your kidneys can no longer do so on their own. If you need dialysis — either hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis — your doctor will use frequent blood tests to monitor your condition. Here's help understanding what these blood tests measure and what the results suggest.

Albumin

Albumin is a protein that transports many small molecules in the blood. Albumin also keeps blood from leaking into the surrounding tissues.

For adults, an albumin level of 3.5 to 5.0 grams per deciliter (g/dL) is desirable — whether you're on dialysis or not. Lower levels may suggest that you're not eating enough protein.

Creatinine

Creatinine is a waste product produced by your muscles and, to some extent, from the meat in your diet. The amount of creatinine in your blood indicates how well your kidneys are functioning.

If you're on dialysis, the most desirable creatinine level can vary depending on how muscular you are, the type of dialysis you choose and how much kidney function you have left. High creatinine levels may suggest that dialysis is inadequate or that you're not consuming enough calories.

Ferritin

Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in the body. The amount of ferritin in your blood is directly proportional to the amount of iron available in your body to produce hemoglobin — the protein that carries oxygen in the blood.

For adults on dialysis, a ferritin level of 200 to 500 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) is desirable. Higher levels may indicate inflammation or simply follow repeated blood transfusions. Lower levels may suggest that you're not absorbing enough iron from your iron supplements.

Glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c)

If you have diabetes, your doctor may do a glycated hemoglobin test to determine how well you're managing your blood sugar. The test reflects your average blood sugar level for the two- to three-month period before the test.

For adults, a glycated hemoglobin level of 7 percent or less is desirable — whether you're on dialysis or not. Higher percentages indicate poor blood sugar control.

Hemoglobin

Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in the blood.

For adults on dialysis, a hemoglobin level of 11 to 12 g/dL is desirable. Lower levels may suggest that you've lost some blood, your iron level is too low or your dosage of epoetin alfa (Epogen, Procrit) or darbepoetin (Aranesp) needs to be adjusted.

Parathyroid hormone

Parathyroid hormone balances your calcium and phosphorus levels.

For adults on dialysis, a parathyroid level of 5 to 15 picomoles per liter (pmol/L) is desirable. Higher levels may suggest poor calcium and phosphorus control or overactive parathyroid glands.

Potassium

Your body needs potassium for normal heart and muscle function. Potassium levels too high or too low can slow or stop your heart.

For adults on dialysis, a potassium level of 3.5 to 5.5 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) is desirable. Vomiting and diarrhea can cause lower potassium levels. Higher levels may suggest that you're eating too many potassium-rich foods or too much food in general.

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 helps form red blood cells and maintain a healthy nervous system.

For adults on dialysis, a vitamin B-12 level of 200 to 650 nanograms per liter (ng/L) is desirable. Lower levels may suggest that you're not absorbing enough vitamin B-12 from your dietary supplements.

Last Updated: 10/27/2006
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