A decrease in serum albumin concentrations is an almost inevitable finding in disease states, and is primarily mediated in the acute phase by alterations in vascular permeability and redistribution. This change is not disease specific but marked changes that persist are generally associated with a poorer prognosis. Critical appraisal of long-standing practices and the availability of alternative colloid solutions have led to a reduction in albumin replacement therapy, and a widespread tolerance of lower albumin concentrations in patients. The factors determining serum albumin concentrations, their measurement and the implications of hypoalbuminaemia are reviewed. The clinical value of serum albumin measurement is discussed.