The homocysteine test may be used a few different ways:
- A health practitioner may order a homocysteine test to determine if a person has a vitamin B12 or folate deficiency. The homocysteine concentration may be elevated before B12 and folate tests are abnormal. Some health practitioners may recommend homocysteine testing in malnourished individuals, the elderly, who often absorb less vitamin B12 from their diet, and individuals with poor nutrition, such as drug or alcohol addicts.
- Homocysteine may be ordered as part of a screen for people at high risk for heart attack or stroke. It may be useful for someone who has a family history of coronary artery disease but no other known risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity. However, the exact role that homocysteine plays in the progression of cardiovascular disease has not been established, so the utility of the screening test continues to be questioned. Routine screening, such as that done for total cholesterol, has not been recommended.
- Tests for both a urine and blood homocysteine may be used to help diagnose homocystinuria if a health practitioner suspects that an infant or child may have this inherited disorder. In the U.S., all babies are routinely tested for excess methionine, a sign of homocystinuria, as part of their newborn screening. If a baby’s test is positive, then urine and blood homocysteine tests are often performed to confirm the findings.
In cases of suspected malnutrition or vitamin B12 or folate deficiency, homocysteine levels may be elevated. If an individual does not get enough B vitamins and/or folate through diet or supplements, then the body may not be able to convert homocysteine to forms that can be used by the body. In this case, the level of homocysteine in the blood can increase.
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