Ferritin Blood Test (cont.)

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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 3-4 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 then 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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/24/2014

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