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Immunoelectrophoresis - serum

Definition

Serum immunoelectrophoresis is a test that measures immunoglobulins in the blood. Immunoglobulins are proteins that function as antibodies. There are various types of immunoglobulins. Some can be abnormal.

Alternative Names

IEP - serum; Immunoglobulin electrophoresis - serum; Gamma globulin electrophoresis; Serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis

How the test is performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

How to prepare for the test

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

This test is done to determine if you have certain immuglobulins in your blood. It can also be used to help identify the specify type of abnormal immuglobulins (proteins) in your blood.

Normal Values

No monoclonal antibodies are detected.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to certain types of cancer such as multiple myeloma or chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Cells related to these types of cancer produce a type of protein called a monoclonal immunoglobulin, which can be detected with this test. However, some people have monoclonal immunoglobulins, but do not have cancer. This is called “monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance," or MGUS.

What the risks are

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Special considerations

References

McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2006.

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    Review Date: 6/2/2010

    Review By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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