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What does high ESR blood test mean?

February 23, 2023 | Abigail Mckay

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) is a measure of how quickly erythrocytes, or red blood cells, fall to the bottom of a test tube. The sedimentation rate is used as a nonspecific measure of inflammation and is sometimes called a nonspecific inflammatory marker. The normal reference range for the ESR test is different for men and women. For men, the normal range is 0-15 millimeters per hour (mm/h), while for women, it is 0-20 mm/h. A high esr blood test usually indicates the presence of inflammation in the body but can also be seen with certain anemias and malignancies. If you have a high ESR, your doctor will likely order additional tests to help determine the cause, as an ESR test alone cannot diagnose a specific condition, as many factors can affect the results. Therefore, it is important to interpret ESR levels in conjunction with other clinical evaluations to determine the underlying cause. Keep reading to learn more about what causes high ESR levels and your treatment options.

ESR, or erythrocyte sedimentation rate, is a simple but important blood test for assessing overall health.

High ESR levels may indicate infection, inflammation, or other serious medical conditions. Low levels of ESR do not necessarily mean good health and can be related to issues like kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, bone marrow disorder, and other genetic diseases. For this reason, it is recommended that people use this test as part of their regular check-ups with their doctor to keep track of their overall health. A comprehensive blog post about ESR can help individuals understand what high or low levels of ESR indicate and how they can take appropriate action if either one is found in their results.

A high ESR usually indicates inflammation somewhere in the body.

A high ESR reading is generally a sign that something is wrong in the body. It usually indicates inflammation due to an underlying condition, often caused by chronic illnesses, diseases, or infections. Autoimmune diseases, chronic infections, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain types of cancer are examples of conditions that can contribute to elevated ESR levels. It is important to investigate further to identify the underlying cause of the inflammation based on the specific type observed and address it accordingly. Your doctor may order additional tests to help determine the cause of the inflammation and seek to address the underlying issue before treating the inflammation related to an elevated ESR.

Inflammation can be caused by infection, injury, or disease.

Inflammation is a term used to describe the body’s natural response when trying to manage infection, injury, or disease. The body increases its production of white blood cells, which are responsible for combating and removing any threat. This process turns into a noticeable reaction which can be recognized as redness, swelling, warmth, and pain around the site. Inflammation is both beneficial to naturally eliminate harm and potentially damaging if persistent and untreated over time. It can lead to uncomfortable symptoms, deterioration in health status, or even additional medical conditions associated with chronic inflammation. Understanding ESR levels can provide insight into the levels of inflammation present in the body when under particular distress.

A high ESR can also be caused by pregnancy, certain medications, or obesity.

A high Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) can also be caused by factors like pregnancy, certain medications (such as oral contraceptives), or  obesity. Pregnancy-related hormonal changes, medication effects on blood composition, and the impact of excess body weight can influence ESR readings. These non-inflammatory causes should be considered and evaluated in the diagnostic process. Discuss with your healthcare provider the possibility of these factors contributing to your elevated ESR levels.  

Can some foods cause false elevated ESR?

False elevated ESR levels can be caused by various dietary intake issues, including an imbalanced diet or the consumption of specific foods. For example, refined carbohydrates, fried and processed foods, and certain meats containing high saturated fats may cause a false elevated reading in ESR tests.  It is important to note that while certain foods can affect ESR readings, a balanced diet is crucial for overall health, and eliminating entire food groups is not recommended. If you suspect your diet may be influencing ESR readings, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a nutritionist to determine alternative dietary options. A healthcare professional or nutritionist can guide you in making dietary adjustments without compromising your overall nutritional balance.

When to see a doctor?

High levels of ESR in the blood can signal an ongoing inflammatory process, so it is important to take note of any abnormally high levels and see a doctor if they persist or become more extreme. High ESR levels often indicate other underlying medical issues, such as nutritional deficiencies and autoimmune diseases. Even greater concern should be given if high ESR readings accompany other unusual signs, such as fever, weakness, chest pain, or rash. It’s always wise to consult with a skilled healthcare practitioner to get to the root of any high ESR test results.

The Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) test is a valuable tool for assessing inflammation in the body, but it is not diagnostic on its own.  Working closely with a healthcare professional allows for a comprehensive understanding of the results and identification of any underlying issues. To wrap up, the causes of a high ESR can range from pregnancy and obesity to injury and infection. If you have a high ESR, your doctor will order additional tests to determine the cause of the inflammation. The course of treatment for a high ESR depends on the underlying problem and may involve lifestyle changes or medication. Although understanding the result of an ESR test is important in recognizing potential health concerns, it is always best to consult with your physician to identify any underlying issues and get appropriate treatment and advice. Start your journey to living healthier today by talking to a Cura4U physician about any medical concerns you might have.


Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr. Tayyab Saeed Akhter on Nov 09th, 2023.



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