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Beta-carotene test

Beta-carotene is found in certain foods. It breaks down to become vitamin A in the body. A test can be done to measures the amount of beta-carotene in blood.

See also: Vitamin A test

Alternative Names

Carotene test

How the test is performed

A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see: Venipuncture

How to prepare for the test

Do not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before the test. Your health care provider may also tell you to temporarily stop taking drugs, such as retinol, that may interfere with test results.

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

Your health care provider may order this test if you have signs that your vitamin A level may be too low, such as:

  • Bones or teeth that do not develop correctly
  • Dry or inflamed eyes
  • Feeling more irritable
  • Hair loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Recurring infections
  • Skin rashes
  • Problems seeing at night

The test can also be used to help measure how well your body absorbs fats.

Normal Values

The normal range is 50 to 300 micrograms per deciliter.

The examples above are common measurements for results of these tests. Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Increased levels may be due to taking too much vitamin A. See: Hypervitaminosis A

Lower-than-normal levels may occur when:
  • Your intestines are not able to absorb fats very well. Beta-carotene is absorbed along with fats, so it will not be absorbed unless fats are too.
  • Your diet does not have enough beta-carotene

While this test is a valuable part of the diagnosis of vitamin A deficiency, the test results must be evaluated along with other clinical findings.

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample 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)

References

Fischbach FT, ed. Manual of Laboratory & Diagnostic Tests. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2004.

Lewis JH. Liver disease caused by anesthetics, toxins, and herbal preparations. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 87.

Updated: 10/22/2011

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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