Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Ferritin Blood Test

ferritin blood test

The ferritin blood test is conducted to measure the levels of ferritin in the body, which serves as a storage protein for iron. This test provides valuable insights into an individual’s iron levels. The human body depends on iron within red blood cells to effectively transport oxygen to all cells. When there is insufficient iron, red blood cells become incapable of delivering adequate oxygen. On the other hand, excessive iron is also detrimental to the body. Abnormal iron levels, whether too high or too low, may signal an underlying and potentially serious issue.

If a medical professional suspects an iron deficiency or an excess of iron in your system, they may recommend a ferritin test. This diagnostic test quantifies the amount of stored iron in your body, providing your doctor with a comprehensive understanding of your iron levels.

Ferritin Test: Purpose and Making Sense of Results

What is Ferritin?

Apoferritin, which forms the protein shell of ferritin, has a molecular weight of approximately 440 kD. The iron content determines this weight. Apoferritin is constructed from 24 subunits. Within ferritin, there exists an iron core that contains an average of 2500 Fe3+ ions. This configuration is found specifically in the liver and spleen ferritin. Ferritin has a tendency to aggregate into oligomers.

Evaluating iron metabolism is made possible through ferritin measurements, which serve as a useful tool. Determining ferritin levels at the onset of therapy provides valuable information about the body’s iron reserves.

In the body, ferritin is stored within cells until there is a need to produce new red blood cells. When the body requires it, a signal is sent to the cells to release ferritin. Subsequently, ferritin binds with another substance called transferrin.

Transferrin acts as a protein that combines with ferritin, facilitating its transportation to the site where new red blood cells are generated. Maintaining normal iron levels is crucial, but having sufficient stored iron is equally important. Insufficient ferritin levels can lead to a rapid depletion of iron stores.

What is the purpose of the Ferritin Test?

A ferritin test is conducted to assess the iron levels in your body and determine if they are within a healthy range. Healthcare providers commonly order ferritin tests for both screening and diagnostic purposes.

For diagnostic purposes, your healthcare provider may request a ferritin test if they suspect abnormalities in your iron levels. Imbalances of iron in the blood, whether too low or too high, can lead to health issues and corresponding symptoms.

You might also undergo a ferritin test if you experience restless legs syndrome, have liver conditions, or if a complete blood count (CBC) test indicates low levels of haemoglobin or hematocrit.

Ferritin tests are used as a screening tool, in combination with other blood tests, to identify low iron levels before symptoms manifest. This screening is typically recommended for individuals at high risk of iron deficiency, including those who are underweight, assigned females at birth with heavy menstrual bleeding, pregnant individuals, and those with conditions affecting food absorption, such as inflammatory bowel disease or certain gastrointestinal surgical procedures.

Symptoms of Low Ferritin Levels

  • pale skin
  • irregular heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • unexplained fatigue
  • shortness of breath (dyspnea)

Symptoms of High Ferritin Levels

  • painful joints
  • heart palpitations
  • unexplained weakness
  • abdominal pain
  • lack of sex drive or erectile dysfunction
  • hyperthyroidism
  • alcohol use disorder

What are some of the factors affecting the Ferritin Test?

Ferritin levels can be influenced by various factors, including:

  1. Age: Generally, ferritin levels tend to decrease with age, particularly among older males.
  2. Gender: There is typically a difference in ferritin levels between men and women, with men often having higher levels due to disparities in body size and muscle mass.
  3. Diet: A low-iron diet can contribute to low ferritin levels. Furthermore, certain dietary substances, like tannins found in tea and coffee, can hinder iron absorption.
  4. Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can lead to reduced ferritin levels due to inadequate nutrition and liver damage, which affects ferritin production.
  5. Medications: Specific medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids, can interfere with iron absorption, potentially leading to decreased ferritin levels.

These factors may impact ferritin levels individually or in combination. It is important to address any concerns about ferritin levels with a healthcare provider to ensure appropriate evaluation and guidance.

How to perform Ferritin Test?

A ferritin blood test is generally a straightforward and efficient procedure.

Similar to other blood tests, the following steps are typically followed by a healthcare professional:

  1. They will wrap a band around your arm to enhance the visibility of your veins.
  2. They will clean a specific area of your skin using an antiseptic swab.
  3. A small needle will be inserted into your vein to collect a blood sample, which will be collected into a vial.
  4. After the blood sample is obtained, the healthcare professional will apply a dressing to the puncture site and remove the band.

In most cases, ferritin tests do not cause significant side effects. You may experience a stinging sensation when the needle is inserted or removed, and there might be some bruising and minor bleeding at the puncture site.

What about the results?

Lower than usual ferritin levels If your ferritin levels are lower than expected, it could indicate iron deficiency anaemia or another condition associated with low iron levels. Iron deficiency anaemia is a common type of anaemia where the body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. If left untreated, it can lead to heart problems, increased susceptibility to infections, hindered growth and brain development in children, and other health issues.iron rich foods-  ferritin blood test

Higher than normal ferritin levels may indicate an excess of iron in your body. Conditions that can cause elevated iron levels include:

  1. Liver disease
  2. Alcohol use disorder
  3. Hemochromatosis
  4. Hyperthyroidism

It’s important to note that abnormal ferritin results do not necessarily indicate a medical condition that requires treatment. Certain medications can affect ferritin levels, either decreasing or increasing them. If you have any questions or concerns about your results, it is advisable to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

For more information on laboratory tests, reference ranges, and interpreting results, you can seek additional resources and guidance.


The ferritin blood test is generally a quick procedure and typically does not necessitate any special preparations. However, in certain cases, a doctor may request the person to fast before the test.

Abnormally high or low ferritin results can indicate an underlying condition such as iron deficiency anaemia, hemochromatosis, or certain types of cancer. To confirm a diagnosis and establish an appropriate treatment plan, additional testing may be required.

The majority of conditions resulting in either insufficient or excessive iron levels can be effectively treated using medications, dietary adjustments, and/or other therapeutic approaches.

Keep reading for more!

Team MBD


Further reading-Ferritin Laboratory Procedure Manual (


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