July 18, 2022

What Is a Ferritin Blood Test - When and Where to Get One

Key Takeaways

  • Ferritin is an iron-rich blood protein. A ferritin blood test measures the amount of total iron in your blood. 
  • Iron assists in oxygenating your blood, boosting your immune system, converting glucose, and supporting skin, nails, and hair health. 
  • Medical conditions associated with too high or low iron levels include: iron deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis, liver disease, adult Still’s disease, and restless leg syndrome (RLS). 
  • Your doctor may ask you to fast for 12 hours before a ferritin blood test. 

What do humans, plants, animals, appliances, cars, and the Titanic all have in common? They all need iron. For humans, iron is an important mineral needed for growth and development. However, your body cannot make iron, which means you need to get it from food sources in a balanced diet.

Insufficient iron in your diet can lead to a condition known as iron-deficiency anemia. Iron has a number of specific roles in your body, including:

  • Oxygenating your blood: Iron’s main function is to assist with the transportation of oxygen from your lungs to all parts of your body with hemoglobin — a form of protein found in red blood cells. Iron also assists with oxygen storage within myoglobin— an iron-rich protein that stores oxygen within muscle tissue — releasing it as needed.
  • Boosting your immune system: Maintaining adequate iron stores means your immune system will function optimally.
  • Converting glucose: Iron helps your body convert blood sugar into energy and increases the transportation of oxygen by increasing hemoglobin production. Iron is also involved in the production of new cells, amino acids, hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes, all of which help with your body’s physical and mental processes.
  • Supporting skin, nails, and hair: Because iron facilitates the synthesis of elastin and collagen, it helps keep your hair, skin, and nails strong and healthy.

In this article, we will review the ferritin blood test and explain why you might need one. We will also outline the procedure and explain how to understand your test results.

What Is a Ferritin Blood Test?

Ferritin is an iron-rich blood protein. A ferritin blood test measures the amount of total iron in your blood. This enables your doctor to assess the level of ferritin your body is storing.

A ferritin test can reveal if your iron level is normal, too high, or too low, so that your doctor can, if necessary, diagnose and treat the underlying cause. Sometimes your doctor may also recommend a total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) test to measure iron levels in your blood.

When Should I Get a Ferritin Blood Test?

Your healthcare provider may recommend a ferritin blood test if they suspect that your iron levels are too high or too low. The test will measure the amount of ferritin in your blood. If you are having certain symptoms, the test may diagnose one of the following medical conditions:

  • Iron deficiency anemia: This is one of several types of anemia and is caused by low iron levels. Symptoms include weakness, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet, lightheadedness or dizziness, brittle nails, pale skin, and sore tongue.
  • Hemochromatosis: This disorder arises when iron levels are too high (also known as iron overload). This can occur if you have been having blood transfusions or if you have liver disease caused by alcohol abuse. In some cases, it may be a hereditary condition. Symptoms include abdominal pain, chest pain, joint pain, weakness, fatigue, diabetes, memory fog, and gray skin color.
  • Liver disease: Liver disease may be indicated by high iron levels. Symptoms include yellowed skin and eyes, abdominal pain, dark urine, itchy skin, nausea and vomiting, pale stools, and chronic fatigue.
  • Adult Still’s disease: This is an uncommon form of rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms include a pink rash, fever, sore throat, aching and swollen joints, and muscle pain.
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS): RLS is a disorder that causes discomfort in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move them, particularly when sitting or lying down.

Where Can I Take a Ferritin Test?

A ferritin blood test can be taken at a clinic, your doctor’s office, or a hospital. Typically, it is performed by a nurse, phlebotomist, or other specialist. If you prefer, you could have your ferritin sample taken at home.

Mobile labs, like Getlabs, are a popular home-test option due in large part to their convenience. Mobile blood sampling is also an excellent alternative to visiting a doctor’s office if you are home-bound, have difficulty leaving the house, or if you are afraid of needles. If you choose an at-home ferritin test service, a specialist will come to your home, collect a blood sample, and take it to a local lab for testing.

What Should I Do Before My Ferritin Blood Test?

Your doctor may ask you to fast for 12 hours before your blood test. This means that you should not eat anything and not drink any liquids other than water.

The test is usually done early in the morning, so you will be fasting overnight, which shouldn’t be too difficult. If you do not fast before your blood test, this may affect the accuracy of the results. If you have questions about fasting before a blood test, we covered the topic more in-depth here.

What Should I Do During My Ferritin Blood Test?

When your Getlabs specialist arrives at your house, they will show you their professional identification and ask you a few questions about your medical history and your general health. They will also ask you if you prepared for your blood test by fasting.

Before taking your blood sample, they will make sure that you are sitting or lying comfortably for the procedure. Your specialist will examine your arms and select the most appropriate vein in your preferred arm. They will then clean your inner arm with an antibacterial wipe at the site where blood will be drawn.

Your specialist will tie a tourniquet around your upper arm to make it easier to find the veins in your arm. They will insert a needle into your vein and attach a test tube to collect the blood sample. Once the sample has been collected, your specialist will remove the needle and apply pressure to the puncture site before applying a bandage. The test will be completed in under five minutes.

How Do I Interpret My Ferritin Test Results?

Once the lab has received your blood sample, the lab test will usually be complete within 24-48 hours. Typically, the report containing your results will be sent in the mail or via your laboratory's patient portal.

The results are shown as a number indicating the number of nanograms of ferritin per milliliter of blood or ng/mL. The reported range will allow your doctor to assess whether your ferritin level is normal, low, or high for someone of your age, sex, and general health.

What Are Normal Ferritin Levels?

The normal range for serum ferritin levels is:

  • Adult men: 20-250 ng/mL
  • Adult women: 10-120 ng/mL

What Are High Ferritin Levels?

Ferritin levels higher than those noted above can, if left untreated, cause serious illness including damage to your heart, liver, pancreas, and joints. Iron overload can also cause damage to bone marrow.

What Are Low Ferritin Levels?

Low ferritin levels cause iron-deficiency anemia. If you do not have enough iron, this means you have too few red blood cells circulating in your body. This could be due to poor iron absorption from food, an inadequate diet, or menstrual blood loss.

Iron-deficiency anemia may also be caused by hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or certain types of cancer. Your healthcare provider may prescribe iron supplements to help increase your ferritin level.

Get Ferritin Blood Testing Done at Home with Getlabs

If you decide to get your ferritin blood test done at home, one of our Getlabs specialists can help you give a blood sample, comfortably, safely, and with total confidentiality. It will save you time and you can enjoy our personalized care with three simple steps.

If you want to learn more about Getlabs, visit www.getlabs.com/faq to learn more.

This page is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute the provision of medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice regarding any of the tests and conditions referenced above are advised to consult with a licensed clinician. Always seek the advice of your qualified health provider regarding a medical condition and do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information on this page. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or go to the nearest urgent care center or hospital.

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