serum immunofixation

What is an immunofixation blood test?

An immunofixation blood test, also known as protein electrophoresis, measures certain proteins in the blood. Proteins play many important roles, including providing energy for the body, rebuilding muscles, and supporting the immune system.

There are two main types of proteins in the blood: albumin and globulin. The test separates these proteins into subgroups based on their size and electrical charge. The subgroups are:

  • Albumin
  • Alpha-1 globulin
  • Alpha-2 globulin
  • Beta globulin
  • Gamma globulin

Measuring the proteins in each subgroup can help diagnose a variety of diseases.

Other names: serum protein electrophoresis, (SPEP), protein electrophoresis, SPE, immunofixation electrophoresis, IFE, serum immunofixation

What is it used for?

This test is most often used to help diagnose or monitor a variety of different conditions. These include:

  • Multiple myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells
  • Other forms of cancer, such as lymphoma (cancer of the immune system) or leukemia(cancer of blood-forming tissues, such as bone marrow)
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Certain neurological disorders and autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases causes your immune system to attack your own cells, tissues, and/or organs by mistake. 
  • Malnutrition or malabsorption, conditions in which your body is not getting enough nutrients from the foods you eat

Why do I need an IFE test?

You may need testing if you have symptoms of certain diseases, such as multiple myeloma, multiple sclerosis, malnutrition, or malabsorption.

Symptoms of multiple myeloma include:

  • Bone pain
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia (low level of red blood cells)
  • Frequent infections
  • Excessive thirst
  • Nausea

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the face, arms and/or legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Problems controlling urination

Symptoms of malnutrition or malabsorption include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bone and joint pain

What happens during an IFE test?

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

You don’t need any special preparations for an immunofixation blood test.

Are there any risks to an IFE test? 

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

What do the results mean?

Your results will show that your protein levels are in the normal range, too high, or too low.

High protein levels may be caused by many conditions. Common causes of high levels include:

  • Dehydration
  • Liver disease
  • Inflammatory diseases, a condition when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissues by mistake. Inflammatory diseases include rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Inflammatory diseases are similar to autoimmune diseases, but they affect different parts of the immune system.
  • Kidney disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Iron-deficiency anemia
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Lymphoma
  • Certain infections

Low protein levels may be caused by many conditions. Common causes of low levels include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, an inherited disorder that can lead to lung disease at an early age
  • Malnutrition
  • Certain autoimmune disorders

Your diagnosis will depend on which specific protein levels were not normal, and whether the levels were too high or too low. It may also depend on the unique patterns made by the proteins.