The ferritin serum blood test is used to detect the levels of one of the primary storage units for iron in the body. It is a simple blood test that is useful in detecting blood disorders that make it difficult to store iron. When there are high levels of ferritin in the blood, then a chronic disease that indicates issues with iron storage may be present. Low levels of ferritin can indicate the presence of anemia instead.
Why Is Ferritin Tested?
Ferritin is like a hollow container that attracts iron proteins into it. This allows the iron to be stored for later use or made available to transport it to where it needs to be used by the body. It has a very wide normal range, with 12-300 ng/mL for men being considered a normal result. For women, results that fall in the 12-150 ng/mL range are considered normal.
What Do My Test Results Mean?
High levels of ferritin above 150/300 ng/mL indicate high levels of iron that are beginning to accumulate. For a man who has reached middle age, the presence of a genetic issue which causes excessive iron storage may wind up accumulating over 20g of iron, which is 5x the normal level. When there is iron toxicity, organ damage may occur from deposits that are left in the liver, heart, or even the joints.
Women tend to accumulate iron more slowly than men because of their monthly menstruation cycle. It may be the age of 60 for women to begin displaying the signs and symptoms of iron toxicity.
Certain medical conditions may also cause high ferritin levels. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common cause, but liver disease and certain types of cancer can also produce high results. These results may be used with other tests to create a diagnosis or begin helping to develop a treatment plan.
If the ferritin serum blood test results are below 12 ng/mL, then this indicates that there are low levels of iron in the blood. This is generally an indication of anemia and may be accompanied by high levels of fatigue, feeling short of breath, dizziness, and a pale complexion. This is all due to the fact that the body cannot create enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.
Why Are Other Tests Often Ordered?
A single ferritin result is often not enough to determine what health condition may be present for a patient. For this reason, there are a number of additional tests that are typically ordered with the ferritin serum blood test to get a clearer picture on what is going on. Then, when all of the test results are put together, a diagnosis can occur.
Why are the additional tests so important? Because normal test results from the ferritin serum blood test don’t necessarily mean there isn’t an iron issue that needs to be addressed. Someone with a chronic illness will have normal ferritin levels, but low levels on their total iron, UIBC, and TIBC tests. High iron levels with low UIBC and normal ferritin levels can be an indication that iron poisoning has occurred.
Here’s What You Need to Know
The development of iron poisoning can happen rapidly, but the development of anemia due to an iron deficiency is a very gradual process. When there isn’t enough iron consumed daily, then the body will take any stored iron in the tissues first before anemia can truly begin. The process of taking stored iron from tissues will create low ferritin levels.
Taking iron supplements or increasing the amount of iron that is in the foods or beverages consumed daily will also affect ferritin results in a positive way. This is because higher iron levels encourages the body to store iron for later.
Certain health conditions are known to directly affect ferritin levels. This includes hepatitis, the abuse of alcohol, or chronic infections. Acute infections may also affect ferritin levels in certain individuals.
If there are high levels of iron present that are due to genetic conditions or a chronic illness instead of lifestyle habits, it may be necessary to have the excessive iron removed from time to time. Otherwise it will typically resolve on its own. Low levels can be corrected with a basic iron supplement.
Up to 70% of the iron that is in the human body is used to create red blood cells. The remaining amount may be stored as ferritin for later use. By knowing the results of the ferritin serum blood test, issues with anemia or toxicity can be addressed so bothersome symptoms can be managed and potentially go away after a treatment plan has been implemented.