Ferritin

Ferritin

Definition

Ferritin is a protein, found in the blood, that stores iron until it is needed for the manufacture of hemoglobin for red blood cells. This test measures the amount of ferritin in the blood serum.

Who is a candidate for the test?

The ferritin test is done to find how much iron is stored in a person's body. The test is ordered if the healthcare professional suspects that the person has either too much or too little iron in the body.

How is the test performed?

To measure the amount of ferritin in the serum, a blood sample is taken from a vein on the forearm. First, the skin over the vein is cleaned with an antiseptic. Next, a strong rubber tube called a tourniquet is wrapped around the upper arm. This restricts the blood flow through the veins in the lower arm causing them to enlarge.
A small needle is inserted into a vein. The tourniquet is removed. Blood flows from the vein through the needle into a syringe or vial. The sample is sent to the lab for testing. After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding

What is involved in preparation for the test?

There is no special preparation for this test.

What do the test results mean?

Abnormally high amounts of ferritin may suggest:
  • alcoholic liver disease
  • hemochromatosis, a genetic disease that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron
  • hemosiderosis, a condition in which iron builds up in the lungs and liver
  • hemolytic anemia, which is caused by destruction of red blood cells
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph cells
  • leukemia, cancer of the white blood cells
  • advanced stages of other types of cancer
  • megaloblastic anemia, in which the bone marrow produces large, abnormal red blood cells
  • inflammatory disease
  • cirrhosis, which is destruction of the normal liver tissue
  • chronic hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that lasts at least 6 months
Abnormally low amounts of ferritin may result from:
  • chronic gastrointestinal bleeding
  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • iron deficiency anemia, which is a low red blood cell count caused by a deficiency of iron in the diet

Sources

Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference: 4th edition, 1999

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