Ammonia Blood Test

Ammonia Blood Test

Ammonia Blood Test, An ammonia blood test, also known as an ammonia blood level test, measures the amount of ammonia in your blood. Ammonia is a waste product that forms when protein in your body breaks down. It is normally processed and removed by the liver. However, if the liver is not functioning properly or if there is an issue with the breakdown of proteins, ammonia can build up in the blood and lead to a condition called hyperammonemia.

Hyperammonemia can be caused by various factors, including liver diseases such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, genetic disorders that affect the urea cycle (the process by which ammonia is converted into urea for excretion), certain medications, and other underlying health conditions.

The ammonia blood test is typically ordered when a healthcare provider suspects that there might be an issue with ammonia metabolism or liver function. Symptoms of hyperammonemia can include confusion, lethargy, vomiting, and in severe cases, neurological symptoms.


An “ammonia test” can refer to different things depending on the context. Here are two common scenarios:

1. Ammonia Blood Test: An ammonia blood test is often performed to measure the level of ammonia in the blood. Elevated levels of ammonia in the blood can indicate liver or kidney dysfunction. This test is particularly important in assessing conditions like hepatic encephalopathy, a neurological condition that can occur due to liver disease. Symptoms of elevated ammonia levels might include:

  • Confusion: Patients might experience confusion, disorientation, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Changes in Behavior: Personality changes, irritability, mood swings, and agitation might occur.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: Patients might experience sleep disturbances and changes in their sleep-wake cycle.
  • Tremors or Shaking: Fine tremors or shaking of the hands can be observed.
  • Slurred Speech: Speech might become slow or slurred.
  • Muscle Weakness: Weakness, especially in the arms and legs, might be noticed.

2. Ammonia Inhalation Exposure: Ammonia exposure, often due to inhaling ammonia gas or vapors, can result in acute symptoms, particularly if the exposure is significant. This can occur in scenarios like industrial accidents or accidental mixing of cleaning products containing ammonia. Symptoms of ammonia inhalation exposure can include:

  • Irritation: Ammonia is irritating to the respiratory tract and can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Burning Sensation: Inhalation of ammonia vapors can lead to a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs.
  • Watery Eyes: Eye irritation, tearing, and redness might occur.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia can cause nausea, vomiting, and a sour taste in the mouth.
  • Headache: Headaches and dizziness can be symptoms of ammonia exposure.
  • Chest Pain: In severe cases, chest pain or tightness might be experienced.

In both cases, if you suspect you are experiencing symptoms related to ammonia levels, it’s important to seek medical attention. For the blood test scenario, a healthcare provider will interpret the results and recommend appropriate treatment if needed. In the case of ammonia inhalation exposure, move to fresh air immediately and seek medical help if symptoms are severe or persistent.

Why Need this Test:

An ammonia blood test, also known as an ammonia test or ammonia level test, is a medical test used to measure the concentration of ammonia in a person’s blood. Elevated levels of ammonia in the blood can be indicative of certain medical conditions, particularly those related to liver function and metabolism. Here are some reasons why an ammonia blood test might be needed:

  1. Liver Function Evaluation: Ammonia is produced as a waste product of protein metabolism in the body, and the liver plays a crucial role in converting ammonia into urea, which is then excreted by the kidneys. Liver diseases, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, can impair the liver’s ability to process ammonia properly, leading to elevated ammonia levels in the blood. Monitoring ammonia levels can provide insights into how well the liver is functioning.
  2. Hepatic Encephalopathy: This is a serious condition that can occur in individuals with advanced liver disease. It is characterized by cognitive and neurological disturbances due to the accumulation of toxins, including ammonia, in the brain. Monitoring ammonia levels is important for diagnosing and managing hepatic encephalopathy.
  3. Reye’s Syndrome: This rare but potentially serious condition primarily affects children recovering from viral infections, often after taking aspirin. Elevated ammonia levels can be associated with Reye’s syndrome, which can cause brain swelling and liver damage.
  4. Urea Cycle Disorders: These are rare genetic disorders that affect the body’s ability to eliminate ammonia. These disorders can lead to a buildup of ammonia in the blood, which can be toxic to the brain and other organs.
  5. Kidney Dysfunction: While the liver is primarily responsible for ammonia metabolism, the kidneys also play a role in eliminating excess ammonia from the body. Kidney dysfunction can lead to elevated ammonia levels in the blood.
  6. Monitoring Treatment: Individuals with liver disease, especially those with hepatic encephalopathy, may undergo treatments aimed at reducing ammonia levels in the blood. Regular ammonia blood tests can help healthcare providers monitor the effectiveness of these treatments


Normal ammonia levels typically fall within the range of 15 to 45 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or 10 to 35 micromoles per liter (µmol/L) of blood. However, the exact normal range can vary slightly based on the laboratory conducting the test and the specific reference values they use.

If the ammonia levels in your blood are significantly higher than the normal range, it could be indicative of conditions such as:

  1. Liver Disease: Ammonia is produced in the body when proteins are broken down. The liver normally processes ammonia and converts it into urea, which is then eliminated through urine. Liver diseases, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, can impair the liver’s ability to process ammonia, leading to elevated levels in the blood.
  2. Urea Cycle Disorders: These are rare genetic disorders that affect the body’s ability to eliminate ammonia. Ammonia accumulates in the blood, leading to neurological symptoms if not properly managed.
  3. Kidney Dysfunction: In some cases, kidney dysfunction can lead to elevated ammonia levels due to impaired ammonia excretion.
  4. Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Blood that contains proteins can increase the body’s ammonia levels when it is broken down. Gastrointestinal bleeding, often related to conditions like ulcers or esophageal varices, can cause this.
  5. Certain Medications: Some medications can affect ammonia levels. For example, certain diuretics and anticonvulsants can lead to higher ammonia levels.
  6. Other Metabolic Disorders: There are other rare metabolic disorders that can cause elevated ammonia levels as well.


The risks associated with an ammonia blood test are generally minimal, but there are a few things to consider:

  1. Discomfort: Like any blood test, there may be some discomfort when the needle is inserted into the vein to draw blood. However, this discomfort is usually temporary.
  2. Bleeding or Bruising: There is a slight risk of bleeding or bruising at the site where the needle was inserted. This risk is generally low and is more likely if you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood-thinning medications.
  3. Infection: There is a very low risk of infection at the puncture site. Medical professionals take precautions to minimize this risk by using sterile equipment and techniques.
  4. Fainting or Dizziness: Some individuals may experience fainting or dizziness during or after the blood draw. This can be due to factors such as anxiety, a fear of needles, or a drop in blood pressure. If you’re prone to such reactions, it’s a good idea to let the healthcare provider know beforehand.

By Mehfooz Ali

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