University of California San Francisco | About UCSF | UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco
Search Site | Find a Doctor

Ferritin

Definition

Ferritin is a protein found inside cells that stores iron so your body can use it later. A ferritin test indirectly measures the amount of iron in your blood.

The amount of ferritin in your blood (serum ferritin level) is directly related to the amount of iron stored in your body.

Alternative Names

Serum ferritin level

How the test is performed

Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.

Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.

Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

How to prepare for the test

Your doctor may tell you to stop taking any drugs that may affect the test results.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

This test measures the amount of iron in the body. Iron is important for red blood cell production.

Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:

  • Anemia of chronic disease

Normal Values

Male: 12-300 ng/mL

Female: 12-150 ng/mL

Note: ng/ml = nanograms per milliliter

The lower the ferritin level, even within the "normal" range, the more likely it is that the patient does not have enough iron.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

Any inflammatory disorder can raise the ferritin level.

Higher-than-normal ferritin levels may be due to:

  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Frequent transfusion of packed red blood cells
  • Hemochromatosis

Lower-than-normal levels may be due to:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Intestinal conditions that cause poor absorption of iron
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Long-term digestive tract bleeding

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

McPherson RA and Pincus MR. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007:78.

Hoffman R, Benz Jr. EJ, Shattil SJ, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingston; 2005:482.

Review Date: 1/28/2010

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright ©2010 A.D.A.M., Inc., as modified by University of California San Francisco. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Information developed by A.D.A.M., Inc. regarding tests and test results may not directly correspond with information provided by UCSF Medical Center. Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.