Immunoglobulins (Igs) are a group of proteins also known as antibodies. Antibodies provide your body with the first line of defense against invading pathogens. Immunoglobulins can be described as either normal or abnormal.
Normal Igs include:
You need proper levels of normal Igs to maintain health. If your Ig levels are too high or too low, that may suggest the presence of disease. Abnormal Igs also suggest the presence of disease. An example of an abnormal Ig is monoclonal protein, or M protein.
The immunoelectrophoresis-serum test (IEP-serum) is a blood test used to measure the types of Ig present in your blood, especially IgM, IgG, and IgA.
The IEP-serum test is also known by the following names:
- immunoglobulin electrophoresis-serum test
- gamma globulin electrophoresis
- serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis
To Confirm or Rule Out Conditions
The IEP-serum test is ordered to help diagnose an underlying health condition. Your doctor may order the test if they’ve found abnormal results through other laboratory tests. The IEP-serum test may also be ordered if you have the symptoms of:
- a chronic infection
- an autoimmune disease
- a protein-losing disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease or enteropathy (a disease of the intestines)
- Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia
The test can be used to rule out conditions such as leukemia and multiple myeloma. Symptoms of these disorders include:
- weakness in the legs
- general weakness
- weight loss
- broken bones
- recurrent infections
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’re 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 your body, your doctor can determine if protein levels are increasing or decreasing.
A doctor or lab technician typically performs the IEP-serum test. You need to give a blood sample. The blood sample is commonly taken from the arm with a needle. Your 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 the results and what they mean.
No specific preparation is needed for the test. However, immunizations affect the test results. Tell your doctor if you’ve had any vaccines in the past six months.
Some medications may also increase your Ig levels. These include:
- phenytoin (Dilantin)
- birth control pills
- gamma globulin
These may impact the results of your test. Medications such as aspirin, bicarbonates, and corticosteroids may also affect your test results. Tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking.
You may experience some discomfort while your blood is being drawn. Needle sticks may result in pain at the injection site. You may experience pain or throbbing at the injection site after the test.
The risks of the IEP-serum test are minimal. These risks are common to most blood tests. Potential risks for the test include:
- multiple needle sticks due to difficulty getting a sample
- excessive bleeding at the needle site
- fainting as a result of blood loss
- a hematoma, which is an accumulation of blood under your skin
- infection where your skin has been broken by the needle
The results from your IEP-serum test will provide two important pieces of health information. First, the test will indicate whether abnormal Igs are present in your blood. If no abnormal Igs are present and the levels of common Igs are normal, you may not need more testing.
If abnormal Igs are detected, this may suggest the presence of an underlying health condition.
In some people, the presence of abnormal Igs may not indicate an underlying health condition. A small percentage of people have low levels of abnormal Igs in their bodies that don’t lead to health problems. This condition is known as “monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance” or MGUS.
If you have abnormal levels of normal Igs, this may also suggest the presence of an underlying health condition. Your doctor will go over your results with you and figure out if you need any further testing or treatment.