Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Dr. Neeraj Gujar
Iron in red blood cells is what your body needs to transport oxygen to all cells. Your red blood cells won’t be able to provide enough oxygen if they don’t have enough iron. Too much iron can also be harmful to your body. High iron levels can indicate serious health problems.
A ferritin test may be ordered if your doctor suspects that you are suffering from an iron shortage or overdose. The test measures how much iron is in your body and can provide a general picture to your doctor.
What Is Ferritin?
Iron in your body is not the same as ferritin. Ferritin, instead, is a protein that stores iron and releases it when your body requires it. Ferritin is usually found in cells of your body, and very little is actually in your blood.
Ferritin is most concentrated in cells of the liver (known to be hepatocytes), and immune system cells (known to be reticuloendothelial cells).
Ferritin is kept in the body’s cells until it’s time for red blood cells to be made. Ferritin will be released when the body signals it. The ferritin binds to a substance called transferrin.
A protein that is combined with ferritin, transferrin transports it to the place where red blood cells are created. Transferrin can be thought of as an iron taxi.
Normal iron levels are important, but it is also important to have enough iron stored. Iron stores can quickly deplete if there isn’t enough ferritin.
The ferritin test measures how much ferritin is in your blood. Your body is like a kitchen pantry. Your body is mostly stocked with the food you use every day. You can also keep certain items in your pantry for the long-term, such as extra pasta or beans that you can use when supplies run low.
Iron is stored in the body the same way. Your body uses some iron from food to make oxygen. It also keeps some iron in reserve for those times when you don’t get enough iron from the food that you eat.
Ferritin is a protein that stores iron. A ferritin blood test may be ordered by your doctor to determine how much iron is in your body.
Also Read: How Do Doctors Use Iron Test to Diagnose Anemia or Hemochromatosis?
When Get Tested?
Knowing whether you have too much ferritin in your blood or not enough can give your doctor clues about your overall iron levels. The more ferritin in your blood, the more stored iron your body has.
Your doctor may order a ferritin test if you have some of the following symptoms associated with low ferritin levels:
- Chronic headaches
- Ringing in your ears
- Unexplained fatigue
- Leg pains
- Shortness of breath
You can also have very high ferritin levels, which can cause unpleasant symptoms as well. Symptoms of excess ferritin include:
- Heart palpitations or chest pains
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Unexplained fatigue
Ferritin levels can also increase as a result of damage to your organs, such as the liver and spleen.
The test can also be used to monitor your overall health, particularly if you have an iron-related condition that causes you to have too much or too little iron in your blood.
How To Get Tested?
Before the Test
If you are having only a ferritin test you can eat and drink as normal. Other additional blood tests may require you to fast. Before you go, make sure to check with your doctor. Consider wearing a shirt that has short sleeves to make it easier for the lab technician to reach your arm.
During the Test
A ferritin test shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. The skin on the inside of your elbow is sterilized with spirit. Once cleansed the technician may wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to easily locate the vein. A technician will insert a needle into a vein in your upper arm. You should look away if the sight of blood or a needle makes you dizzy or nauseated. After collecting the blood, the technician will remove it and bandage the area with a cotton pad. The technician will label the blood and send it off to a laboratory for analysis.
After The Test
Because it only requires a small amount of blood, a ferritin blood test doesn’t have any serious side effects. If you experience bleeding or bruising, talk to your doctor or pathologist.
As your blood is drawn, you can expect discomfort. Rare side effects that may occur after the test include:
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Excessive bleeding
The normal range for blood ferritin is:
- For men, 24 to 336 micrograms per liter
- For women, 11 to 307 micrograms per liter
Low ferritin levels can be caused by a variety of factors. One of the reasons is iron deficiency. This can occur when your daily iron intake is not sufficient.
Anemia is another condition that can affect iron levels. This is when there aren’t enough red blood cells to allow the iron to attach. Anemia can lead to low blood iron and low ferritin levels. But, a person suffering from a chronic illness may have low blood iron but normal or high levels of ferritin.
Also Read: Do You Need to Be Concerned If Your Hemoglobin Isn’t In Normal Range?
Additional conditions may include:
- Excessive menstrual bleeding
- Internal bleeding
- Conditions that can affect intestinal absorption
High ferritin levels indicate conditions like hemochromatosis, which is when your body absorbs too much iron.
Other conditions that cause high iron levels include:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Adult-Onset Still’s Disease
- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Frequent Blood Transfusions
- Iron Poisoning
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Liver diseases, such as Chronic Hepatitis C
Ferritin is also called an acute phase reactant. Ferritin levels rise when there is inflammation. This is why ferritin levels may be elevated in those with liver disease and other types of cancer such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Ferritin is stored in liver cells. Ferritin in cells can leak out if the liver is damaged. These and other inflammatory conditions would cause ferritin levels to be higher than normal. Obesity and inflammation are the most common causes of elevated ferritin levels. Hemochromatosis is the most common cause of elevated ferritin levels due to genetic factors.
Your doctor may order additional tests if your ferritin levels are high. These tests include:
- An iron test, which measures the amount of iron circulating in your body
- A total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) test, which measures the amount of transferrin in your body
Certain dietary changes can help you maintain your ferritin level. Avoid eating uncooked fish and shellfish. Include iron supplements and iron-rich foods. Although dietary changes can help, it is suggested to consult a doctor.
Yes, if one suffers from hyperthyroidism, one may have a high level of ferritin.
Iron is a mineral that is present in red blood cells, it carries and transports oxygen. Whereas, ferritin stores iron and release it when the body needs it.
- Adams P. (2008). Management of elevated serum ferritin levels.
- Blood test: Ferritin (iron). (n.d.).
- Ferritin. (2018).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Ferritin test.