Hypoalbuminemia is the result of the combined effects of inflammation and inadequate protein and caloric intake in patients with chronic disease such as chronic renal failure. Inflammation and malnutrition both reduce albumin concentration by decreasing its rate of synthesis, while inflammation alone is associated with a greater fractional catabolic rate (FCR) and, when extreme, increased transfer of albumin out of the vascular compartment. A vicious cascade of events ensues in which inflammation induces anorexia and reduces the effective use of dietary protein and energy intake and augments catabolism of the key somatic protein, albumin. Hypoalbuminemia is a powerful predictor of mortality in patients with chronic renal failure, and the major cause of death in this population is due to cardiovascular events. Inflammation is associated with vascular disease and likely causes injury to the vascular endothelium, and hypoalbuminemia as two separate expressions of the inflammatory process. Albumin has a myriad of important physiologic effects that are essential for normal health. However, simply administering albumin to critically ill patients with hypoalbuminemia has not been shown to improve survival or reduce morbidity. Thus the inference from these clinical studies suggests that the cause of hypoalbuminemia, rather than low albumin levels specifically, is responsible for morbidity and mortality.
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