What to know about ferritin blood tests for anemia

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By Jayne Leonard    
Reviewed by J. Keith Fisher, M.D.
Ferritin
is a protein in blood cells that stores iron. A doctor may order a ferritin
blood test, sometimes alongside other tests, to check a person’s iron levels.
In
this article, we discuss the ferritin blood test procedure and how to interpret
the results.
We
also explain how people can raise or lower their blood ferritin levels.
What is a ferritin blood test?
A
ferritin blood test can help a doctor diagnose conditions related to high or
low iron levels.
Doctors
use ferritin blood tests to check the levels of iron in a person’s blood and
help diagnose many health conditions. These conditions include:
·        
iron-deficiency anemia,
or a low red blood cell count
·        
hemochromatosis,
a condition wherein there is too much iron in the body
·        
restless
legs syndrome
People
who have one of these conditions may require regular ferritin blood tests to
monitor their health.
A
doctor may also order other blood tests to discover more about a person’s iron
stores. They may test for:
·        
blood
iron levels
·        
hemoglobin
levels, to check red blood cell numbers
·        
the HFE gene,
which indicates hemochromatosis
·        
total
iron binding capacity, which measures levels of transferrin, a protein that
carries ferritin around the body
What do the results mean?
After
a doctor takes the blood sample, they will send it to a laboratory for testing.
Once the laboratory technicians analyze the blood, they will typically send the
results back within a few days of the test.
Ferritin
blood test results may come back as normal, low, or high. The following
sections discuss what these results mean.
Normal ferritin levels
Results
will be given in nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood and can vary
slightly from one laboratory to another.
According
to some sources, the normal ranges for ferritin in the blood are as
follows:
Group & ng/Ml
·        
Adult
males                                20–250
·        
Adult
females                              10–120
·        
Females
over 40                            12–263
·        
Newborns                                   25–200
·        
Infants
aged 1 month                       200–600
·        
Infants
aged 2–5 months                    50–200
·        
Children
aged 6 months to 15 years         7–140
Other
sources provide slightly different levels, with some research from
2008suggesting that some laboratories consider ferritin levels over 200 ng/mL
in women and 300 ng/mL in men to be abnormal.
It
is important that people confirm normal levels with their doctor or the
laboratory that tested them.
Low ferritin levels
Low
ferritin levels can cause headaches and pale skin.
A
result of low ferritin is strong evidence of an iron deficiency. The
body requires iron to make hemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells
that transfers oxygen from the lungs around the body.
Without
enough iron, a person may develop anemia.
Iron is also necessary for:
·        
growth
and development
·        
normal
metabolism
·        
the
production of hormones
Iron-deficiency anemia can cause the
following:
·        
Dizziness
·        
Fatigue
·        
Headache
·        
irregular
heartbeat
·        
pale
skin
·        
shortness
of breath
·        
weakness
Mild
anemia may not produce any symptoms.
High ferritin levels
Higher-than-normal
ferritin levels may result from:
·        
Hemochromatosis
·        
chronic
inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
·        
heavy
alcohol use
·        
Hodgkin lymphoma,
a cancer that affects the lymphatic system
·        
hyperthyroidism,
wherein the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone
·        
leukemia,
a cancer of the bone marrow
·        
liver
disease
·        
porphyria,
a group of disorders that affects the skin and nervous system
People
who have had several blood transfusions may also display high ferritin levels.
A
result of above-normal ferritin levels will require further testing to discover
the underlying cause and help doctors determine the best course of treatment.
How to increase low ferritin levels
Doctors
treat low ferritin levels with oral iron supplements. For severe cases of
anemia, a person may require treatment with intravenous iron.
For
the best results, people should take oral iron supplements with a source
of vitamin C to increase iron absorption. They should avoid
antacids, calcium supplements, and tea or coffee within 2
hours of an iron supplement.
Typically,
people will require follow-up blood tests to check that their ferritin levels
and iron levels have returned to normal.
If
ferritin and blood iron levels do not return to normal following iron
supplementation, a doctor may carry out additional testing to determine the
cause of the deficiency and treat it accordingly.
Potential causes of an iron deficiency
include:
·        
fibroids or
polyps
·        
heavy
menstrual periods
·        
peptic
ulcers
How to lower high ferritin levels
A
doctor may recommend phlebotomy to treat high ferritin levels.
The
treatment for high ferritin levels depends on the underlying cause.
For
hereditary hemochromatosis, doctors typically recommend a person have their
blood removed from their body, in a process called phlebotomy, on a regular
basis.
The
amount of blood that the doctor removes, and how frequently they remove it,
will vary depending on a person’s age, health, and ferritin levels. At first,
the person may require the removal of around 500 ml of blood
weekly until their ferritin levels return to normal.
These
people will need treatment on an ongoing basis to maintain normal blood
ferritin levels.
Those
with other conditions causing high ferritin levels may require additional
treatments, such as medications or procedures, depending on the cause.
Procedure
A
ferritin blood test follows a similar procedure to other types of blood test.
Typically,
a medical professional will begin by cleaning the skin around the puncture site
using an alcohol-based solution. Usually, they will take the blood from a vein
on the inside of the elbow.
They
may first wrap an elastic band around the upper arm to make the vein more
prominent. They will then insert the needle, which is connected to a vacuum
collection device, into the vein. People may feel a slight pinch as the needle
enters the skin.
Once
they have collected the blood, the doctor will withdraw the needle and remove
the elastic band if one is present.
They
will sometimes use some cotton wool or a bandage to stop any bleeding, before
labeling the blood sample and sending it to a laboratory to be analyzed.
The
blood collection process only takes a few minutes. It is unlikely for a person
to experience side effects, and when they do occur, they are typically mild.
For example, some people may experience:
·        
dizziness
or nausea at the sight of the blood
·        
mild
bruising in the hours or days after the test
People
may wish to let the doctor know before the test if they are feeling anxious or
uncomfortable.
How to prepare for the test
People
do not usually need to make any special preparations for a ferritin blood test.
However, if a person is also having other blood tests, they may need to fast
for a certain period of time beforehand.
Individuals
should confirm these details with their doctor in the days leading up to the
blood test.
Summary
A
ferritin blood test is a simple blood test to measure the levels of ferritin in
a person’s body. It is a very safe procedure that does not usually require any
special preparations.
Abnormal
results may indicate an underlying issue, such as iron deficiency,
hemochromatosis, or some types of cancer. Further testing is typically
necessary to confirm a diagnosis and help formulate a treatment plan.
If
people are confused about the results of their ferritin blood test, they should
follow up with their doctor, who can explain the results and their
implications.
SOURCE: MEDICAL NEWS TODAY
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.