Immunoglobulins (Igs) are a group of proteins also known as antibodies. Antibodies provide the body with a first line of defense against illness. Immunoglobulins can be broadly classified as normal and abnormal.
Normal Igs include: IgG, IgM, IgA, IgE, and IgD. Correct amounts of normal Igs are needed to maintain health. Ig levels that are too high or too low may suggest the presence of disease. Abnormal Igs also suggest the presence of disease. An example of an abnormal Ig is monocolonal protein or M protein.
The immunoelectrophoresis-serum test is a blood test that is used to measure the type of Ig present. The test also measures the amount of the protein.
The immunoelectrophoresis-serum test is also known by the following names:
- immunoglobulin electrophoresis-serum
- gamma globulin electrophoresis
- serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis
To Confirm a Diagnosis
The immunoelectrophoresis-serum (IEP-serum) test is ordered to help diagnose an underlying health condition. Your doctor may order the test if abnormal results have been detected through other laboratory tests. The IEP-serum test may be ordered if you show symptoms of:
- a chronic infection
- an autoimmune disease
- a protein-losing disease, such as enteropathy (a disease of the intestines) or inflammatory bowel disease
- Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia
The test can be used to rule out conditions such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. Symptoms of these disorders include:
- weakness and fatigue
- weight loss
- broken bones
- recurrent infections
- weakness in the legs
To Monitor Treatment
The IEP-serum test can also be used to monitor treatment for autoimmune disorders or certain types of cancer. For example, if you are being treated for multiple myeloma, your doctor will use the test to measure treatment success. Because the IEP-serum test measures the amount of proteins in the body, your doctor can determine if protein levels are increasing or decreasing.
A doctor or nurse typically administers the IEP-serum test. You will be required to provide a blood sample. The blood sample is commonly taken from the arm with a needle. The blood is collected in a tube and sent to a lab for analysis. Once the results are reported from the lab, your doctor will be able to provide you with more information about the results and what they mean.
No specific preparation is needed for the test. However, immunizations affect the test results. If you have had any vaccines in the past six months, be sure to tell your doctor.
Medications such as phenytoin (Dilantin), oral contraceptives, methadone, procainamide, and gamma globulin may also increase Igs. This will impact the results of the test. Medications such as aspirin, bicarbonates, and corticosteroids may also alter test results.
Patients undergoing the IEP-serum test may experience some discomfort when the blood sample is drawn. Needle sticks may result in pain at the injection site during the test. Following the test, patients may experience pain or throbbing at the injection site.
The risks of the IEP-serum test are minimal. These risks are common to most blood tests. Potential risks for the test include:
- difficulty obtaining a sample, resulting in multiple needle sticks
- excessive bleeding at the needle site
- fainting as a result of blood loss
- the accumulation of blood under the skin, known as a hematoma
- developing infection where the skin is broken by the needle
The results from the IEP-serum test will provide two important pieces of health information. First, the test will indicate whether abnormal Igs are present. If no abnormal Igs are present and the levels of common Igs are normal, you may not be required to undergo additional testing.
If abnormal Igs are detected, this may suggest the presence of an underlying health condition.
In some patients, the presence of abnormal Igs may not indicate an underlying health condition. A small percentage of patients have low levels of abnormal Igs in their bodies. These patients do not develop any health problems. This condition is known as “monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance” or MGUS.
If abnormal (higher or lower) levels of normal Igs are detected, this may also suggest the presence of an underlying health condition.