The ferritin test is requested to see how much iron your body has stored for future use. It is the most useful indicator of iron deficiency, as the ferritin stores can be significantly decreased before any fall in serum iron occurs.
If iron excess is suspected, ferritin may be requested in combination with an iron test and the total iron binding capacity (TIBC), unbound iron binding capacity (UIBC), or transferrin saturation. This combination of tests will help determine the cause of a raised ferritin level.
Ferritin is most often requested when a doctor thinks a patient has too little iron in their system. Low iron levels can lead to anaemia and the production of red blood cells that are small (microcytic) and pale (hypochromic). If these typical changes are seen on a “full blood count” then ferritin can be measured to confirm a diagnosis of iron deficiency anaemia.
The test may also be requested when your doctor suspects you have too much iron, for example in hereditary haemochromatosis (a genetic disorder which causes too much iron to be absorbed from the diet).
Most ferritin is located within the cells of the body, with only a small amount in the blood. When there is damage to organs that contain ferritin (especially the liver, spleen, and bone marrow), ferritin levels can become raised even though the total amount of iron in the body is normal. Ferritin levels may not be particularly helpful if measured in people with liver disease, long-term infections, cancer, or autoimmune diseases (which are all associated with organ damage).
This article was last reviewed on 21 November 2012. | This article was last modified on 24 September 2013.
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