A blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test determines the level of urea nitrogen in your blood. Urea nitrogen is a waste product produced by your liver when it breaks down protein. It travels through your bloodstream, is filtered by your kidneys, and excreted in your urine. If your liver is unhealthy, it may not break down proteins as efficiently as it should. And if your kidneys aren't healthy, they may not properly filter urea. Either of these issues can result in increased urea nitrogen levels in your body.
BUN levels can tell your doctor how well your kidneys are working. The test may be used in conjunction with other measurements to help diagnose a kidney disorder or to determine how well your kidney disease treatment is working.
The blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test is a common blood test that provides important information about how well your kidneys are working. A BUN test determines the amount of urea nitrogen in your blood.
The following is how your body typically forms and eliminates urea nitrogen:
- After breaking down proteins used by your body's cells, your liver produces ammonia, which contains nitrogen.
- Nitrogen reacts with other elements, including carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, to form urea, a chemical waste product.
- Urea travels through your bloodstream from your liver to your kidneys.
- Urea and other waste products are removed from your blood by healthy kidneys.
- The filtered waste products exit the body via urine.
- A BUN test can determine if your urea nitrogen levels are higher than normal, indicating that your kidneys are not functioning properly.
WHY IS IT DONE?
A BUN test may be required:
If your doctor suspects you have kidney disease or damage, consult him or her immediately.
If your kidney function needs to be evaluated, especially if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, schedule an appointment.
If you are receiving hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis, this test will help determine the effectiveness of your dialysis treatment.
As part of a blood test panel to aid in the diagnosis of a variety of other conditions, such as liver damage, urinary tract obstruction, congestive heart failure, or gastrointestinal bleeding — through an abnormal BUN test result does not confirm any of these conditions on its own.
If kidney problems are the primary concern, your creatinine levels will almost certainly be measured when your blood is tested for urea nitrogen levels. Creatinine is another waste product that healthy kidneys remove from the body via urine. Creatinine levels in the blood may indicate kidney damage.
Your doctor may also perform tests to determine how well your kidneys remove waste from your blood. A blood sample may be taken to calculate your estimated glomerular filtration rate (GFR). The GFR calculates your percentage of kidney function.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE?
You can eat and drink normally before the test if your blood sample is only being tested for BUN. If your blood sample will be used for additional tests, you may be required to fast for a period of time prior to the test. You will be given specific instructions by your doctor.
WHAT CAN BE EXPECTED
A member of your health care team takes a blood sample during the BUN test by inserting a needle into a vein in your arm. The blood sample is sent to a laboratory for testing. You can immediately resume your normal activities.
BUN levels are measured in milligrammes per deciliter (mg/dL) and internationally in millimoles per litre (mmol/L). In general, levels ranging from 6 to 24 mg/dL (2.1 to 8.5 mmol/L) are considered normal.
Normal ranges, however, may vary depending on the lab's reference range and your age. Inquire with your doctor about your results.
The concentration of urea nitrogen tends to rise with age. Infants have lower levels than adults, and children's levels vary.
A high BUN level usually indicates that your kidneys aren't working properly. However, elevated BUN can also be caused by:
Dehydration can occur as a result of not drinking enough fluids or for other reasons.
- Obstruction of the urinary tract
- Heart failure or a recent heart attack
- Bleeding in the intestines
- Serious burns
- Some medications, such as antibiotics
- A protein-rich diet
If kidney damage is a concern, ask your doctor what factors may be contributing to the damage and what steps you can take to try to control them.
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