What is a ferritin test?
A ferritin test measures blood levels of ferritin, a protein that stores iron inside your cells. This test is an indirect way to measure iron levels in your blood.
Why would a doctor order a ferritin test?
A ferritin test is performed if your doctor suspects your iron levels are abnormal. Iron is essential to your body’s normal functioning.
Your body uses iron in metabolic processes (processes that help your body make and use energy). These processes include:
- Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis (creating material for new cells in your body)
- Carrying oxygen in your red blood cells, from your lungs to your body tissues
- Electron transport within cells (helping cells manage energy)
What symptoms might lead to ferritin testing?
Your doctor is likely to recommend this test if you have symptoms of iron deficiency anemia (low blood iron levels) or even too much iron. Symptoms of having too little iron include:
Symptoms of having too much iron include:
- Painful joints
- Heart issues
- Weight loss
- Pain in the stomach area
- Body hair loss
- Lack of sex drive
- Tiredness or loss of energy
How is a ferritin test performed?
Your doctor will take a blood sample to perform a ferritin test. Before the test, your doctor may advise you to avoid eating or drinking for up to 12 hours. You might be told to have the test done in the morning.
To obtain a blood sample:
- A healthcare provider cleanses the skin where the blood draw will take place.
- The provider gently inserts a needle through your skin and into a vein to obtain a blood sample. This process may cause slight discomfort. You may feel a brief pinch or sting at the needle insertion site.
- After your blood sample is obtained, the provider withdraws the needle from your skin and places a clean bandage over the needle insertion site.
- You may have slight bruising or tenderness in the area for a few days after giving a blood sample.
Results and Follow-Up
What should I expect after the ferritin test?
The spot where your blood was drawn usually heals quickly. It will vanish in about a day. Your doctor will discuss your test results with you, usually within a few days.
What happens if my results are abnormal?
Your doctor will discuss your results with you. He or she may recommend further testing or treatment options. It should be noted that ferritin levels can be high in cases of infection or inflammation, even when the iron stored in your body has not changed. Low ferritin test results may indicate:
- Anemia (inadequate red blood cells)
- Blood loss (usually from the gastrointestinal tract)
- That your body does not absorb iron properly
Ferritin test results may be high due to certain medical conditions and not necessarily from too much iron. But high ferritin levels can indicate a need for further testing to rule out: