What is Serum Creatinine?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Serum creatinine is the concentration of a compound known as creatinine in the blood or urine. It is tested during routine metabolic panels, usually with the goal of evaluating a patient who may be at risk for kidney disease. Most labs have the ability to check serum creatinine, often providing same day turnaround service with rapid results.

Serum creatinine is tested for during routine metabolic panels to evaluate if a patient is at risk for kidney disease.
Serum creatinine is tested for during routine metabolic panels to evaluate if a patient is at risk for kidney disease.

The serum creatinine test can be recommended as part of a comprehensive panel of a patient or as a standalone test because there are specific concerns. When a doctor recommends this diagnostic test, patients may want to ask why it is being recommended, what the possible results are, and how long it will take to receive results.

Those with a high serum creatinine concentration may need further blood testing to determine the cause.
Those with a high serum creatinine concentration may need further blood testing to determine the cause.

Creatinine is a waste product produced by the body at a relatively stable rate. It is a byproduct of the cycle used to deliver energy to the muscles. The kidneys are responsible for clearing creatinine from the body and when they are not functioning properly, more of this compound starts to circulate in the blood. In the early stages of a kidney problem the levels may be within normal range, but eventually they will rise high enough to indicate that the kidneys are not working.

Serum creatinine is tested during routine metabolic panels to evaluate the potential risk of kidney disease.
Serum creatinine is tested during routine metabolic panels to evaluate the potential risk of kidney disease.

People can also have high serum creatinine in pregnancy or in the wake of a muscle injury in some cases. Patients with high test results may be evaluated to rule out these possibilities. A doctor would expect to see high levels in patients with kidney failure, kidney cancers, and diseases of the cardiovascular system.

It may be important for a patient to ask their doctor why a serum creatinine test is being recommended.
It may be important for a patient to ask their doctor why a serum creatinine test is being recommended.

This test is relatively low cost, making it appealing to a doctor who wants to work a patient up quickly to rule out possibilities without expending a lot of money or exposing the patient to invasive tests. Once serum creatinine is determined, a lab technician can use the information to generate a creatinine clearance value, taking the patient's age, height, weight, and gender into account. This value can provide even more information about kidney function.

The serum creatinine test may be recommended as part of a comprehensive panel.
The serum creatinine test may be recommended as part of a comprehensive panel.

One problem with the serum creatinine test is that people can be experiencing kidney disease and the start of kidney damage while the values still fall within normal range. Other values on a metabolic panel can provide additional information about kidney function. Once the kidneys start to function abnormally, it is common to see other changes in a blood profile because the kidneys are not able to express a wide variety of waste products.

Women may have high serum creatinine during pregnancy.
Women may have high serum creatinine during pregnancy.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

winslo2004

@bigjim - You're absolutely right about that. People don't appreciate everything their kidneys do for them until they start to have problems with them, and then it can be too late.

I never bothered to get lab work when I was younger, I figured I was healthy and didn't want to "waste my time", as I put it then. When I finally did go it turned out that my creatinine ratio and a bunch of other labs were off, and I nearly ended up on dialysis. I am really glad I got it checked out before it was too late.

bigjim

I think that most doctors check creatinine levels pretty regularly, which is a good thing because it can tell you a lot about how your kidneys are functioning.

This is a big part of why I go to the doctor for my regular checkups. I am diabetic, and the last thing I want is to end up with serious kidney disease and possibly dialysis. I hope that everyone is getting this checked when they get their lab work done.

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