Protein Electrophoresis Immunofixation Electrophoresis

Other names: Urine Protein Electrophoresis (UPE); Serum Protein Electrophoresis (SPE); IFE

Electrophoresis is a method of separating different proteins in the blood, urine and serum. Immunofixation electrophoresis is a method, which involves mixing proteins into the agarose gel with antibodies; the test concentrates on specific proteins and the other proteins are washed away. The test can be used to assess levels of protein and determine protein activity in the body; changes in specific proteins may indicate a range of health conditions so the test can be a very useful diagnostic tool.

When is the test used?

The test is primarily used to help doctors reach a diagnosis when a patient has symptoms associated with abnormal protein absorption, protein loss or abnormal protein production. The test is usually ordered when a doctor suspects that a patient has got multiple myeloma or a health conditions which affects protein concentration or activity; symptoms of multiple myeloma include weakness, anaemia, pain in the bones, persistent infections and fractures (which are not caused by trauma or injuries).

How is the test carried out?

The test is done by taking a sample of blood from a vein in the patient’s arm; a needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is drawn out and collected in a syringe. When the doctor (or nurse) has a sufficient sample, the blood will be bottled, labelled and sent off to the laboratory for testing.

A urine sample may also be collected and analysed; this will be collected over a 24 hour period.

What do the test results mean?

The results of the test indicate the levels of different proteins in the body; changes in the levels of certain proteins may indicate specific health conditions, as outlined below:

  • Albumin: decreased levels of albumin may indicate malnutrition, pregnancy, kidney disease, liver disease and inflammatory conditions, while increased levels are usually associated with dehydration.
  • Alpha1 globulin: decreased levels are usually associated with congenital emphysaema (a very rare disorder) or severe cases of liver disease. Increased levels may indicate either acute or chronic inflammatory conditions.
  • Alpha2 globulin: decreased levels may indicate hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), severe liver disease and haemolysis (when red blood cells are destroyed), while increased levels are associated with kidney disease.
  • Beta globulin: levels decrease in cases of liver cirrhosis and malnutrition; increased levels may indicate iron deficiency anaemia, multiple myeloma (some cases) and hypercholesteroaemia.
  • Gamma globulin: decreased levels are usually indicative of an immune disorder; increased levels of monoclonal proteins may indicate multiple myeloma and MGUS (monoclonal gammopathies of undetermined significance). Increased polyclonal protein levels may indicate cirrhosis, chronic liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic inflammatory disease.

Certain medications may affect the test results.

Specific Blood Tests

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