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Also Known As: Ferritin Serum, Serum Ferritin, Serum Ferritin Level

What Is A Ferritin Test?

The ferritin test is most commonly used to measure ferritin levels in the blood. It is a simple blood test that analyses this major iron storage protein level in the body. High ferritin levels demonstrate an iron storage disorder, including hemochromatosis or other chronic disease processes. On the other hand, low levels indicate iron deficiency leading to anemia, i.e., a decrease in the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

Your body is like a kitchen pantry stocked with food that you utilize daily to carry out routine tasks. Some of the items are in your body for long-term usage, especially when the level of supplies gets stifled. The human body stores iron in an exact manner. You use some of the iron from the food directly to make oxygen in the blood and keep some in reserve for times when your body is not getting enough from your daily diet. The iron in the body is stored in a protein, commonly known as ferritin. It releases the stored iron when your body needs it the most.

Ferritin usually lives in body cells, with only some amount circulating in the blood serum. It remains in the body cells until it's time to produce more red blood cells. When it happens, the body signals the cells to release the ferritin, which then binds to other substances known as transferrin. When combined with ferritin, these substances help transport it to new red blood cells. Therefore you must have normal iron levels. Your iron stores will drain instantly if you don't have enough ferritin.

What Is The Test Used For?

The main objective of the ferritin test is to understand whether your body is storing a normal amount of iron or not. The doctors can interpret the ferritin test results alone, but many prefer further evaluation with other blood tests such as iron studies, and liver function tests. For the most part, the test is used for better screening, diagnosis, or monitoring of certain health conditions.

For Screening

The ferritin test is considered the best screening tool, along with other blood tests. With the help of this test, the doctors can look for low levels of iron in your body to detect iron deficiency even when you are asymptomatic. Screening using this test is usually only for those patients quorate are at higher risk for developing iron deficiency. The most common suspects are female adults who are:

  • Underweight
  • Go through heavy blood loss during the Menstruation cycle
  • Who are malnourished  
  • Those who do not get enough iron from their food
  • Pregnant or lactating mothers

For Diagnosis

The ferritin test is a major diagnostic procedure that aims to find the root cause of your symptoms. You can use a ferritin test to rule out or diagnose any following conditions.

  • Iron Overload

Excessive or high iron levels are termed iron overload or hemochromatosis. It is because a person's body does not have a natural way to shed extra iron from the system. Excess iron keeps depositing in body tissues, including the heart, liver, and pancreas. It can lead to iron overload, which is a severe condition and can cause irreversible damage to your organs.

  • Iron Deficiency Or Anemia

If your body is not producing enough iron or when its iron levels are constantly below the normal range, it can lead to anemia. Consistently low iron levels in blood serum decrease the production of new red blood cells. 
It ultimately influences your body's ability to convey adequate oxygen to organs, muscles, and tissues.

  • RLS Or Restless Leg Syndrome

This health condition is identified by uneasy, uncomfortable sensations in the Limbs with a strong urge to move them, especially when sitting or lying. A ferritin test can determine whether iron deficiency has anything to do with restless leg syndrome or not.

  • Liver Diseases

A massive amount of iron stored in the ferritin proteins is present in the liver. When your liver becomes damaged, diseased, or stops working, iron and ferritin protein start to leak into the bloodstream. This test can help diagnose certain liver conditions like hepatitis B or C infection, cirrhosis, and alcohol abuse.

  • AOSD Or Adult Onset Still Disease

It is a rare condition that makes your joints swelled up and tender. This health concern is often accompanied by a rash, fever, and a high blood ferritin level.

For Monitoring

Your health care professional can monitor ferritin levels in your body if you are receiving any kind of iron supplementation therapy ( iron deficiency anemia). They can ask for repeated ferritin tests and blood tests to know whether the treatment is working or if they need to discontinue the procedure. People with chronic conditions like kidney diseases, liver diseases, and cancer should also get their ferritin testing done as a part of regular blood work to know any indications of iron deficiency or iron overload during the treatment.

Why And When Do You Need A Ferritin Test?

Your doctor can order a ferritin test if your other Blood Work suggests anemia. This condition can be life-threatening and lead to a lack of oxygen in your blood. The test also shows if you have too much or too little iron in your body. If you have low iron levels, you may exhibit symptoms like:

  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat

When your iron levels are too high and uncontrollable with the ability to get worse with time, the symptoms will be:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Extreme joint pain
  • Exhaustion
  • Heart problems
  • Loss of body hair
  • Weight loss
  • Unexplainable lack of energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Stomach issues

What kind of sample is required for the test?

During the test, your doctor or Health Care professional will draw a blood sample from a vein in your arm using a small needle. After inserting the needle, they will collect a small amount of blood in a test tube or vial. The test only takes a few minutes but remember to look away if seeing blood or a needle makes you feel lightheaded or sick.

Do You Need To Prepare For The Test?

If you are going for the test to check ferritin levels only, you can eat or drink as per the usual routine. There is no need for you to fast or stop taking other medicines before the blood test. If you are still confused, do not forget to check with your doctor beforehand. Always go for the test wearing a loose t-shirt which short sleeves so the laboratory technician can quickly get the needle to your arm.

Are There Any Risks To This Test?

The ferritin test is also very safe and secure as any other standard blood test. Even though there is nothing to worry about, you might feel:

  • Faint or lightheaded
  • Slight pain at the site of injection
  • A bruise or lump under the skin
  • Weakness

What Do The Test Results Mean?

After receiving your blood sample, it might take a few days before you order your health care provider can receive the test results. Once the results arrive, your doctor will use the standard reference range to evaluate your ferritin level as low, normal, or high.

Lower Than Normal Results

A lab test result with a low ferritin level indicates that you may have iron deficiency. If your body is not storing enough iron in it, it can impact the production of healthy/ new red blood cells leading to iron deficiency or anemia. In the initial stages of anemia, you may have a low amount of ferritin but a normal amount of iron in the blood. You will still be able to make new red blood cells, but if the iron deficiency progresses, your body will use up all the stored iron. Your body will then try to compensate for it by increasing the amount of transferrin to transport iron.

Your health care provider will also compare the serum iron, serum ferritin, transferrin saturation, and total iron-binding capacity to understand the severity of iron deficiency.

Higher Than Normal Results

High ferritin level shows iron overload, which is most commonly associated with hemochromatosis, where your body starts to absorb more iron than its requirement. Elevated ferritin level can also be due to other conditions such as:

  • Any inflammatory condition
  • Chronic infection
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid
  • Anemia ( not because of iron deficiency)
  • Liver diseases, including cirrhosis
  • Adult still disease

Related Tests:    CBC (complete blood count), iron, iron binding capacity, total iron.

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