Normal Ammonia Levels

There are some good bacteria in your gut that help digest protein. During the digestion of protein, these bacteria produce a compound called ammonia that travels to your liver through the portal vein. The liver then turns it into glutamine and the kidneys convert glutamine into urea to be excreted from your body. In case your liver is ill, it will fail to convert ammonia into glutamine and then urea. This will lead to the buildup of ammonia in your blood that can even travel to your brain and cause a condition called neurological changes that lead to mental changes such as disorientation, confusion and sleeplessness. It is, therefore, of immense importance to take steps to maintain normal ammonia levels in your blood. Keep reading to find out the issues associated with abnormal levels of ammonia.

What Is the Normal Ammonia Level?

The normal ammonia levels may vary a bit from lab to lab, so the values mentioned below are more like a reference range. The best thing to confirm your ammonia levels are normal is to check the range your lab uses – it will be there on your lab report.

  • Generally, for adults, anything between 9.5 and 49 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) is considered normal.
  • The levels of ammonia are considered normal in children if they are between 40 and 80mcg/dL.
  • In newborns, the levels of ammonia should be between 90 and 150 mcg/dl.

It is still important to consult with your healthcare provider because sometimes a value that falls outside these normal values may still be considered normal due to many other factors and the range your lab has used.

When Should You Have an Ammonia Test?

Your doctor may ask you to have an ammonia test done for your newborn if he/she shows symptoms such as vomiting, irritability, seizures and lethargy. The test may also be performed if your child is showing these symptoms about a week after a viral illness, such as a cold or influenza because it could be due to Reye's syndrome. Adults usually have to go for a test to check normal ammonia levels if they are experiencing symptoms such as sleepiness, disorientation or lapse into a coma.

How to Do the Test

A lab assistant will take some blood from your vein to test your normal ammonia levels. You may feel a slight discomfort when they insert the needle, but it's usually nothing serious. You don't need any special preparation for the test, but it's better to avoid eating anything for at least 8 hours before your test.

You should, however, tell your doctor if you're using some medication because medications such as diuretics, polymyxin B, methicillin and valproic acid can cause higherthannormal results and medications like monoamine oxidase inhibitors can cause lower than normal results.

What If You Have Abnormal Ammonia Level?

As mentioned already, any liver diseases can make it difficult for your body to get rid of ammonia. You may notice your normal ammonia levels increase due to a high protein diet or medications that affect these levels. Some specific medical conditions may also lead to abnormally high level of ammonia, such as congestive heart failure, Reye's syndrome, high body temperature, gastrointestinal bleeding, liver failure, leukemia, metabolic alkalosis, low blood potassium level and genetic diseases of the urea cycle. An inherited urea cycle enzyme deficiency is usually the reason of abnormally high levels of ammonia in infant.

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