Hypoalbuminemia in acute illness: is there a rationale for intervention? A meta-analysis of cohort studies and controlled trials

Ann Surg. 2003 Mar;237(3):319-34. doi: 10.1097/01.SLA.0000055547.93484.87.


Objective: To determine whether hypoalbuminemia is an independent risk factor for poor outcome in the acutely ill, and to assess the potential of exogenous albumin administration for improving outcomes in hypoalbuminemic patients.

Summary background data: Hypoalbuminemia is associated with poor outcomes in acutely ill patients, but whether this association is causal has remained unclear. Trials investigating albumin therapy to correct hypoalbuminemia have proven inconclusive.

Methods: A meta-analysis was conducted of 90 cohort studies with 291,433 total patients evaluating hypoalbuminemia as an outcome predictor by multivariate analysis and, separately, of nine prospective controlled trials with 535 total patients on correcting hypoalbuminemia.

Results: Hypoalbuminemia was a potent, dose-dependent independent predictor of poor outcome. Each 10-g/L decline in serum albumin concentration significantly raised the odds of mortality by 137%, morbidity by 89%, prolonged intensive care unit and hospital stay respectively by 28% and 71%, and increased resource utilization by 66%. The association between hypoalbuminemia and poor outcome appeared to be independent of both nutritional status and inflammation. Analysis of dose-dependency in controlled trials of albumin therapy suggested that complication rates may be reduced when the serum albumin level attained during albumin administration exceeds 30 g/L.

Conclusions: Hypoalbuminemia is strongly associated with poor clinical outcomes. Further well-designed trials are needed to characterize the effects of albumin therapy in hypoalbuminemic patients. In the interim, there is no compelling basis to withhold albumin therapy if it is judged clinically appropriate.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease* / mortality
  • Cohort Studies
  • Health Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Hypoalbuminemia / therapy*
  • Length of Stay
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prognosis
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Serum Albumin / administration & dosage


  • Serum Albumin