A blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test measures the amount of nitrogen in your blood that comes from the waste product urea. Urea is made when protein is broken down in your body. Urea is made in the liver and passed out of your body in the urine. A BUN test is done to see how well your kidneys are working.
Urea is a waste product formed in the liver when protein is metabolized into its component parts (amino acids). This process produces ammonia, which is then converted into the less toxic waste product urea. This test measures the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) level in the blood. Sometimes, a BUN to creatinine ratio is calculated to help determine the cause of elevated levels.
Nitrogen is a component of both ammonia and urea. Urea and urea nitrogen are referred to somewhat interchangeably because urea contains nitrogen and because urea/urea nitrogen is the "transport method" used by the body to rid itself of excess nitrogen. Urea is formed in and released by the liver into the blood and is carried to the kidneys, where it is filtered out of the blood and released into the urine. Since this is an ongoing process, there is usually a small but stable amount of urea nitrogen in the blood. However, when the kidneys cannot filter wastes out of the blood due to disease or damage, then the level of urea in the blood will rise.
The kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs that are located at the bottom of the ribcage in the right and left sides of the back. Within them are about a million tiny blood filtering units called nephrons. In each nephron, blood is continually filtered through a microscopic cluster of looping blood vessels, called glomerulus. The glomerulus allows the passage of water and small molecules but retains blood cells and larger molecules. Attached to each glomerulus is a tiny tube (tubule) that collects the fluid and molecules that pass through the glomerulus and then reabsorbs what still can be used by the body. The remaining waste forms urine.
Most diseases or conditions that affect the kidneys or liver have the potential to affect the amount of urea present in the blood. If increased amounts of urea are produced by the liver or if the kidneys are not working properly and have difficulty filtering wastes out of the blood, then urea levels will rise in the blood. If significant liver damage or disease inhibits the production of urea, then BUN levels may fall.
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