If you’ve been told you have low ferritin levels on a lab test, what does it mean?
When you visited your doctor, were you told that you had a low ferritin level? If so, you may have wondered what ferritin is and what it means when your levels are low.
What is ferritin?
Ferritin is a protein found in the cells of the body that binds iron and holds it in a storage form until the body is ready to use it. Although it plays an important role of its own within the cell, it’s most important clinical use is as a means to measure how much iron is stored in the body.
How do you know ferritin levels are low?
Ferritin levels can be checked by drawing a tube of blood and sending it to the lab for testing. This is usually done when your doctor suspects you have too much or too little iron in your body. The most common reason for checking ferritin levels is to rule out iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is a very common diagnosis, particularly in younger women. It’s estimated that up to seven percent of women in this country have iron deficiency anemia. Generally when iron deficiency anemia is present, it shows up on a blood test as a low hemoglobin and hematocrit level. Blood cells may also be unusually small in size if iron deficiency anemia is present. If this is noted after testing your blood, your doctor would likely check to see if ferritin levels are low, confirming the diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia. A low ferritin level is one of the best indicators of iron deficiency.
Can ferritin levels be too high?
Ferritin levels that are too high can also indicate disease. High ferritin levels show that too much iron is being absorbed and stored by the body which can happen with a genetic disease called hemachromatosis. Sometimes ferritin levels can be elevated nonspecifically when a person is ill for other reasons.
What happens if your ferritin level is too low?
If your doctor tells you that you have low ferritin levels, you’ll probably be placed on iron supplements to correct your iron deficiency anemia and replenish ferritin stores. It can take up to four months for ferritin levels to return to normal after iron supplements are started, so don’t expect to see immediate results.
How do you know when your ferritin levels have returned to normal?
Blood tests are usually repeated to recheck levels after four to six months of iron supplementation.
A low ferritin level is usually easily treated with iron supplements and dietary changes and should cause no longer term problems if corrected.