How an Assay of Ferritin Helps Medical Professionals Care for Patients

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The test used to quantify the amount of iron in your blood is called an iron blood test or ferritin blood test. Iron is a very important element because it carries oxygen to your tissues. It also transports oxygen to the muscles. Enzymes which catalyze other processes, also use iron. Iron deficiency is a widespread problem globally due to improper nutrition, but mostly because of gastrointestinal problems which cause bleeding. Bleeding depletes iron stores. The ferritin blood test will most likely be ordered along with other routine blood tests. The test may also be ordered due to an acute illness, in order to diagnose unseen bleeding in the body. In some cases, an iron overdose may be suspected.

The Procedure

Ferritin is a water soluble, iron storage protein which binds to iron. The blood test indirectly tests the amount of iron in your body by measuring your serum ferritin levels. When your hemoglobin (the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen) and hemotocrit (percentage by volume or concentration of red blood cells) levels are low, and your cells under the microscope appear smaller and paler than normal, you may be diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia. Abnormal shapes of hemoglobin can alter the flow of blood through blood vessels. High levels of ferritin are associated with tissue damage and malignant disease.


Normal serum blood ferritin is 24-336 ng/L for men and 11-307 ng/L for women (standard units). If your test results indicates a low or high value, your doctor may then order a TIBC test and transferrin test. The TIBC (iron-binding capacity) and transferrin test quantifies the transferrin saturation, a more definitive view of the iron uptake. In iron deficiency, the iron level is low, and the transferrin saturation is low. With iron overload, the iron level is high and the transferrin saturation is high.


Symptoms of low iron include headaches, weakness, dizziness, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and leg pain. Cognitive problems may also appear, like difficulty focusing, learning, paying attention, memory loss and confusion. Your physician will note these symptoms and along with the results of your blood tests, indicating low iron and low transferrin saturation, and may diagnose you with iron deficiency. Symptoms of pain in the joints, lack of energy, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of sex drive, and heart problems may lead your physician to suspect iron overdose. Results from the blood tests indicating a high iron level and a high transferrin saturation level may confirm the physician’s diagnosis of hemochromotosis, or iron overload.

More Conditions

A chronic illness may return a result of low iron and low transferrin saturation. Hemolytic anemia will have a result of high iron and high transferrin saturation. Sideroblastic anemia may have a normal/high iron count and a high transferrin saturation. Iron poisoning will definitely have a high iron count and a high transferrin saturation. Ferritin has adaptive and reactive properties to contribute to normal homeostasis or balance in the body, therefore people with autoimmune disorders, some types of cancer, chronic infection and inflammation may have higher than normal ferritin levels. However, the ferritin blood test is not used to screen for these conditions.


Blood, Vol. 89, No. 3, 1997, Serum Transferrin Receptor and Its Ration to Serum Ferritin in the Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency

Lab Tests Online, Ferritin