The Ferritin Test: What It Is and What It Means?

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What is a ferritin test?

A ferritin test is a blood test that measures levels of ferritin, a protein that stores iron in cells. Iron is required by your body to produce healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. Iron is also necessary for strong muscles, bone marrow, and organ function. Extra iron in ferritin is stored in your body for later use and is generally concentrated in the liver and immune system cells.

Purpose of a ferritin test

Knowing whether you have too much or too little ferritin in your blood can give your doctor an idea of your total iron levels. The more ferritin in the blood, the more iron your body has stored.

Low ferritin

Your doctor may suggest a ferritin test if you have any of the following symptoms associated with low ferritin levels:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Chronic headaches
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Irritability
  • Pain in the legs
  • Breathing difficulties

High Ferritin Levels

Very high ferritin levels can cause uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Stomach pain
  • Unexplained fatigue

Ferritin levels can also rise due to organ damage, such as the liver and spleen. The test can also be used to monitor your general health, particularly if you have an iron-related condition that causes you to have too much or too little iron in your blood.

Understanding your ferritin blood test results

First, the results of your ferritin blood test will be evaluated to determine if your levels are within the normal range. According to the doctor, typical areas are:

  • In men, the range is 20 to 500 nanograms per milliliter
  • In women, the range is 20 to 200 nanograms per milliliter

Always consult your doctor for the normal laboratory range when determining whether your ferritin levels are normal, high, or low.

Causes of low ferritin

A lower-than-normal ferritin level may indicate an iron deficiency, which can occur if you do not get enough iron in your daily diet. Another condition that affects iron levels is anemia if you do not have enough red blood cells.

Other conditions include:

  • Excessive menstrual bleeding.
  • Stomach disorders affecting intestinal absorption.
  • Internal bleeding.

Knowing whether your ferritin levels are low or normal will assist your doctor in making a more accurate diagnosis.

Causes of high ferritin levels

Excessively high ferritin levels can indicate certain diseases. An example is hemochromatosis, where your body absorbs too much iron. High iron levels can also be caused by the following conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Adult-onset Still’s disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Leukemia
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Iron poisoning
  • Frequent blood transfusions
  • Liver diseases, such as chronic hepatitis C
  • Restless leg syndrome

Ferritin in the medical fraternity is known as the Acute Phase Reactant. This suggests that ferritin levels rise when the body is inflamed. This is why ferritin levels can be high in people with liver disease or cancer, like Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Liver cells, for example, have stored ferritin. When a person’s liver is damaged, ferritin inside cells begins to leak. Ferritin levels should be higher than usual in persons with these and other inflammatory diseases, according to doctors.

The most common causes of elevated ferritin levels include obesity, inflammation, and daily alcohol consumption. The most common causes of genetically determined elevated ferritin levels are hemochromatosis. If your ferritin test results are high, your doctor will likely suggest other tests that can find more about the iron levels in your body.

These tests include:

  • An iron test, which determines the amount of iron in your body; and
  • A total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) test determines the amount of transferrin in your body.

Seeing an abnormal Ferritin test result can be stressful. Notably, high or low ferritin levels do not necessarily mean you have a medical condition and need treatment. About one in 20 healthy people have results outside the normal range. Your doctor will tell you if you should get additional tests done to determine the cause of the abnormal reading.

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