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Definition:

Hemoglobin electrophoresis is a test that measures the different types of the oxygen-carrying substance (hemoglobin ) in the blood.



Alternative Names:

Hb electrophoresis; Hgb electrophoresis; Electrophoresis - hemoglobin



How the test is performed:

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.



How to prepare for the test:

No special preparation is necessary for this test.



How the test will feel:

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.



Why the test is performed:

You may have this test if your health care provider suspects that you have a disorder caused by abnormal forms of hemoglobin (hemoglobinopathy).

Many different types of hemoglobin (Hb) exist. The most common ones are HbA, HbA2, HbF, HbS, HbC, Hgb H, and Hgb M. Healthy adults only have significant levels of HbA and HbA2.

Some people may also have small amounts of HbF (which is the main type of hemoglobin in an unborn baby's body). Certain diseases are associated with high HbF levels (when HbF is more than 2% of the total hemoglobin).

HbS is an abnormal form of hemoglobin associated with sickle cell anemia . In people with this condition, the red blood cells sometimes have a crescent or sickle shape. The cells easily break down, or can block small blood vessels.

HbC is an abnormal form of hemoglobin associated with hemolytic anemia . The symptoms are much milder than they are in sickle cell anemia.

Other, less common, abnormal Hb molecules cause anemias .



Normal Values:

In adults, these hemoglobin molecules make up the following percentages of total hemoglobin:

  • Hgb A1: 95% to 98%
  • Hgb A2: 2% to 3%
  • Hgb F: 0.8% to 2%
  • Hgb S: 0%
  • Hgb C: 0%
In infants and children, these hemoglobin molecules make up the following percentages of total hemoglobin:
  • Hgb F (newborn): 50% to 80%
  • Hgb F (6 months): 8%
  • Hgb F (over 6 months): 1% to 2%


What abnormal results mean:

The presence of significant levels of abnormal hemoglobins may indicate:

  • Hemoglobin C disease
  • Rare hemoglobinopathy
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Thalassemia


What the risks are:

There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)


Special considerations:

You may have false normal or abnormal results if you've had a blood transfusion within the previous 12 weeks.



References:

Nagel R. Methemoglobinemias and unstable hemoglobins. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 168.

Steinberg M. Sickle cell disease and associated hemoglobinopathies. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 167.




Review Date: 3/2/2009
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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