What Is a Ferritin Blood Test?
A ferritin test measures the amount of a blood protein called ferritin, which stores iron. Think of your body as a kitchen pantry. Most of it is stocked with food you use every day. But you keep some items in there long-term -- an extra box of pasta or can of beans to have on hand when supplies get low.
Your body stores iron the same way. It uses some of the iron it gets from food right away to make oxygen in your blood. But it also keeps some iron on hand for times when you aren’t getting enough from the food you eat.
The iron is stored in a protein called ferritin. To see how much is in your body, your doctor might order a ferritin blood test.
Why Do I Need a Ferritin Blood Test?
Doctors order a ferritin test if other blood tests point to possible anemia, which can lead to a lack of oxygen in your blood. It can show if there is too much or too little iron in your body. Doctors can also use it to diagnose restless legs syndrome and Still's disease in adults (a rare type of arthritis with fever and rash).
Low iron could be the cause if you:
You may also have strange cravings for licorice, chalk, dirt, or clay. You may feel a burning sensation on your tongue.
If left unchecked, low levels of iron can cause heart failure (when your heart doesn’t pump blood to your body as well as it should). It can also cause these symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Leg pain
- Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus
A ferritin blood test can also help your doctor figure out whether your body is storing too much iron. High levels may point to alcohol abuse, infection, liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, overactive thyroid, or some types of cancer.
Symptoms of high iron levels vary and can include:
- Heart problems
- Joint pain
- Low sex drive
- Loss of body hair
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of energy
How Do I Prepare for a Ferritin Blood Test?
If ferritin is the only test you're having, you can eat and drink as usual. You may need to fast for other blood tests. Always check with your doctor beforehand.
Think about wearing a shirt with short sleeves so the lab technician can get to your arm easily.
How Is a Ferritin Blood Test Performed?
A ferritin test should only take a few minutes. Remember to look away if the sight of blood or a needle makes you dizzy or nauseated.
After cleaning the skin around it, a technician will insert a needle into a vein in your arm. They may wrap an elastic band around the upper part of your arm to make the vein easier to find. Once they’ve collected the right amount of blood, the technician will remove the band and needle and stop the bleeding with a cotton ball or bandage. They’ll label the blood and send it to a lab.
Ferritin Blood Test Risks
Like other routine blood tests, the ferritin test is considered safe. You may feel the following:
Ferritin Blood Test Results
Normal ferritin levels range from:
- 24 to 336 micrograms per liter for men
- 11 to 307 micrograms per liter for women
Causes of Low Ferritin Blood Levels
If your results are lower than normal, you might have iron deficiency and possibly anemia. Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements or order more blood tests to figure out the cause.
Causes of High Ferritin Blood Levels
Higher than normal results mean your body is storing too much iron. Your doctor may adjust your diet or supplements. Since high iron is a symptom of other medical issues, you may have more tests to pinpoint the cause, such as:
- Rheumatoid arthritis or another ongoing inflammatory problem
- Liver disease
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- You’ve had several blood transfusions
- Alcohol abuse
- You’ve taken too many iron supplements