Ferritin Test - Preparation, Need, Results, and Ranges

Iron is a vital element that is required by the human body for the production of haemoglobin, a protein which is a part of the red blood cells and is responsible for the red colour of blood. Haemoglobin carries oxygen to the various organ cells and tissues in the body, while also removing waste (carbon dioxide) in the process. The human body is incapable of producing iron, which is absorbed from the dietary intake. Low levels of iron in the body can lead to reduced oxygen levels in the blood and several serious health conditions like iron deficiency anaemia. On the other hand, higher-than-normal iron levels are also a health disorder (hemochromatosis) and can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and cirrhosis or even organ failure.

Understanding the Ferritin Level

About 70% of the body’s iron can be found in haemoglobin, while about 5% of the iron forms a component of certain proteins. 25% of the body’s iron is stored as ferritin, which is a protein that is usually found in the cells of the body, while a small amount of ferritin also circulates in the bloodstream. Ferritin acts as an iron storehouse, releasing iron as and when the body demands it.

If one’s ferritin test result shows a low level of ferritin it may indicate that their stores of iron are depleted, which can lead to the development of conditions like iron deficiency anaemia. On the other hand, a high level of ferritin can indicate an iron surplus in the body, which too can led to serious chronic conditions if left untreated.

How a Serum Ferritin Test Helps Determine Iron Deficiency

The small amounts of ferritin (serum ferritin) that circulates in the blood can indirectly but very accurately depict how much iron is stored in the body.

The purpose of the ferritin blood test is to measure the level of the protein present in the blood to determine whether the body has health iron levels orImagenot. It is a very common test prescribed for screening and diagnostic purposes, often in combination with other tests like an iron level test and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) test to get a comprehensive overview of the body’s iron levels.

Uses of the Ferritin Test

An individual may be asked to undergo a ferritin test at a lab if their doctor suspects that their iron levels are either too high or too low. The test is also used to detect conditions like anaemia, liver disease, Adult Still’s disease, or hemochromatosis, and to monitor treatment efficacy in case a person has been diagnosed with one of these conditions. A doctor may also order a test to check an individual’s ferritin level if their CBC (complete blood count) results show low haemoglobin and haematocrit, which may indicate an iron deficiency in the body even if no symptoms have appeared.

The ferritin test is also often used as a screening tool to detect low iron levels in people who have high risk factors of developing an iron deficiency. These risk factors include:

  • Being underweight
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Pregnancy
  • Food absorption issues
  • Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease
  • Having undergone certain gastrointestinal surgical procedures

Symptoms to Look Out For

Another reason why the ferritin test may be prescribed to a person is if they are displaying symptoms of an iron deficiency or surplus.

Common symptoms of low ferritin levels include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Irritability
  • Leg pain

Causes of low ferritin levels include excessive blood loss, anaemia, medical conditions of the stomach that affect intestinal absorption, etc., and if left unchecked, can lead to heart failure as well.

Common symptoms of high ferritin levels include:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Joint pain
  • Reduced libido
  • Loss of body hair
  • Stomach aches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lack of energy

Causes of high ferritin levels include alcohol abuse, too many iron supplements, multiple blood transfusions, chronic inflammatory disorders, an overactive thyroid, etc., and if left unchecked, can lead to organ damage, liver problems, diabetes, etc.

What to Expect

While an individual does not need to undergo any preparation for the ferritin test, it is always better to ask one’s doctor about the same, as the requirements may vary from case to case, based on one’s overall health. The test itself involves the collection of a blood sample from a vein in the arm, which is tested to determine ferritin levels in the serum. In general, ferritin levels should range from 20-500 ng/mL in men and 20-200 ng/mL in women. But the normal range for ferritin levels may vary significantly from one lab to another. Additionally, ferritin is also an acute-phase reactant protein, which means that its levels tend to rise every time the body has inflammation. So, it is always recommended to consult one’s doctor with their test results, for a proper diagnosis of their health, keeping all affecting factors in mind.

Whether high or low, abnormal ferritin levels mostly require further testing to ascertain the underlying cause.

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