What Is a Ferritin Blood Test?
- A ferritin test is a laboratory blood test that measures the amount of ferritin in a person's blood stream.
- Ferritin is the major iron storage protein in the body, so the ferritin test is ordered as an indirect way to measure the iron stores in the body.
- The ferritin test is often ordered as part of a panel of tests that examine the levels of body iron and the effects of abnormalities in iron storage.
- It may be ordered together with an iron level, a total iron binding capacity test, or blood cell counts.
How Are the Results of the Ferritin Test Interpreted?
The normal range for ferritin levels is rather broad and varies slightly among laboratories.
- Normal ferritin levels are higher for men than for women.
- High or low levels of ferritin are suggestive of an iron storage disorder or iron deficiency anemia, respectively.
- As with any blood test, the result is interpreted together with the result of other laboratory tests and a thorough patient physical examination and medical history to establish a diagnosis.
What Do Abnormal Results of a Ferritin Blood Test Mean?
- Low levels of ferritin are seen in iron deficiency. The body uses iron to produce the hemoglobin that is critical for the red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues of the body. Iron deficiency anemia, or a decrease in red blood cells, is the result. Serious cases of anemia can produce symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, pale skin, and fast heartbeat, although mild cases may not be apparent and may first be noticed when blood tests are performed for other reasons.
- Elevated levels of ferritin can mean that the body has too much iron. Hereditary hemochromatosis is an example of an inherited iron storage disease in which there is excessive accumulation of iron in the body (iron overload). In individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis, the daily absorption of iron from the intestines is greater than the amount needed to replace losses. Since the normal body cannot increase iron excretion, the absorbed iron accumulates in the body. The accumulation of iron in different organs (including the heart, liver, joints, and testicles in men) damages these organs over time, potentially causing heart failure, cirrhosis, diabetes, joint pain, and sexual dysfunction. Women can also have hereditary hemochromatosis, but because they lose more iron than men due to iron loss from menstruation, symptoms begin at a later age than in men.
- Ferritin levels are also commonly elevated when there is underlying inflammation in the body. In this setting, ferritin is sometimes referred to as an acute phase reactant (similar to erythrocyte sedimentation rate or ESR, C-reactive protein or CRP).
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Fauci, Anthony S., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2008.