Ferritin Blood Test

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Illustration of the the human circulatory system.

Ferritin blood test facts

  • The ferritin test measures the level of ferritin, the major iron storage protein in the body.
  • The ferritin test is a simple blood test.
  • High levels of ferritin can indicate an iron storage disorder, such as hemochromatosis, or a chronic disease process.
  • Low levels of ferritin are indicative of iron deficiency, which causes anemia (a reduction in the number of red blood cells).
A person holds several vacutainer blood bottles.

What is ferritin?

Ferritin is the major iron storage protein of the body. Ferritin levels can be used to indirectly measure the iron levels in the body. Ferritin has the shape of a hollow sphere that permits the entry of a variable amount of iron for storage (as ferric hydroxide phosphate complexes).

What is the ferritin blood test?

The ferritin test uses venous blood to measure ferritin levels. The test is sometimes ordered together with other tests to help evaluate the body's iron stores, such as an iron level or a total iron binding capacity test.

A woman gets her blood drawn.

How does one prepare for a ferritin blood test?

The ferritin test uses venous blood that is withdrawn as for any routine blood test. No special preparation for the test is necessary. Fasting is not necessary.

How is the test performed?

A needle attached to a vacuum collection device is inserted into a vein, often a vein in the antecubital fossa (crease of the elbow), after the area has been cleaned. Venous blood can also be taken from other sites.

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Chart shows ranges for male and female ferritin blood test levels.

What are the potential side effects of a ferritin blood test?

The ferritin blood test is a routine blood test and typically does not cause side effects. Mild bruising at the venipuncture site can occur infrequently.

What are normal results for a ferritin test?

The results may vary slightly among laboratories, but in general, normal ferritin levels range from 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng/mL) for males and 12 to 150 ng/mL for females.

Iron being absorbed across intestinal villi.

What does an elevated ferritin level mean

High levels of ferritin can be indicative of an iron storage disorder such as hemochromatosis.

Hereditary hemochromatosis is an inherited (genetic) disorder in which there is excessive accumulation of iron in the body (iron overload). In individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis, the daily absorption of iron from the intestines is greater than the amount needed to replace losses. Since the normal body cannot increase iron excretion, the absorbed iron accumulates in the body.

  • A man with hemochromatosis can accumulate 20 grams of total body iron by age 40 to 50 (the normal iron content for the body is 3 to 4 grams). The excess iron deposits in the joints, liver, testicles, and heart, which causes damage to these organs, and causes signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis.
  • Women with hemochromatosis accumulate iron at a slower rate than men because they lose more iron than men due to iron loss frommenstruation. Therefore, they typically develop signs and symptoms of organ damage due to excess iron 10 years later than men.

People with hereditary hemochromatosis may have no symptoms or signs (and have normal longevity), or they can have severe symptoms and signs of iron overload that include:

The symptoms arise because iron accumulates in the organs and leads to destruction and loss of normal function.

Other causes of a high ferritin level are chronic inflammatory conditions such as liver disease or rheumatoid arthritis, or some types of cancer.

A woman suffers from low ferritin levels.

What does a low ferritin level mean?

Low levels of ferritin are seen in iron deficiency. Without enough iron, the body cannot produce sufficient levels of hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells that allows them to carry oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia is the result. Mild anemia may not produce symptoms at all. More serious cases of anemia can produce symptoms such as:

Reviewed on 10/15/2015
References
REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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