Also Known As
Hemoglobin-binding Protein
Formal Name
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on May 2, 2019.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To help detect and evaluate hemolytic anemia

When To Get Tested?

When you have signs of anemia such as weakness, paleness, or jaundice that a healthcare practitioner suspects may be due to red blood cell destruction (hemolytic anemia)

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?


You may be able to find your test results on your laboratory's website or patient portal. However, you are currently at Lab Tests Online. You may have been directed here by your lab's website in order to provide you with background information about the test(s) you had performed. You will need to return to your lab's website or portal, or contact your healthcare practitioner in order to obtain your test results.

Lab Tests Online is an award-winning patient education website offering information on laboratory tests. The content on the site, which has been reviewed by laboratory scientists and other medical professionals, provides general explanations of what results might mean for each test listed on the site, such as what a high or low value might suggest to your healthcare practitioner about your health or medical condition.

The reference ranges for your tests can be found on your laboratory report. They are typically found to the right of your results.

If you do not have your lab report, consult your healthcare provider or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range.

Laboratory test results are not meaningful by themselves. Their meaning comes from comparison to reference ranges. Reference ranges are the values expected for a healthy person. They are sometimes called "normal" values. By comparing your test results with reference values, you and your healthcare provider can see if any of your test results fall outside the range of expected values. Values that are outside expected ranges can provide clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

While accuracy of laboratory testing has significantly evolved over the past few decades, some lab-to-lab variability can occur due to differences in testing equipment, chemical reagents, and techniques. This is a reason why so few reference ranges are provided on this site. It is important to know that you must use the range supplied by the laboratory that performed your test to evaluate whether your results are "within normal limits."

For more information, please read the article Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

Haptoglobin is a protein produced by the liver that the body uses to clear free hemoglobin (found outside of red blood cells) from circulation. This test measures the amount of haptoglobin in the blood.

Hemoglobin is the iron-containing protein complex that transports oxygen throughout the body. It is normally found within red blood cells (RBCs) and very little is found free circulating in the blood. Haptoglobin binds to free hemoglobin in the blood. This forms a haptoglobin-hemoglobin complex that is rapidly cleared out of circulation for degradation and iron recycling.

However, when an increased number of RBCs are damaged and/or break apart (hemolysis), they release their hemoglobin into the blood, increasing the amount of free hemoglobin in circulation. When large numbers of RBCs are destroyed, haptoglobin concentrations in the blood will temporarily decrease as the haptoglobin is used up faster than the liver can produce it. A decrease in the amount of haptoglobin may be a sign that a person has a condition that is causing red blood cells to be destroyed or break apart. When the binding capacity of haptoglobin is exceeded, free hemoglobin level in circulation goes up and may cause tissue damage and organ dysfunction.

Increased RBC destruction may be due to inherited or acquired conditions. Some examples include transfusion reactions, certain drugs, and mechanical breakage, such as may be seen with some prosthetic heart valves. The destruction may be mild or severe, occurring suddenly (acute) or developing and lasting over a long period of time (chronic), and it can lead to hemolytic anemia. People with hemolytic anemia may experience symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath and their skin may be pale or jaundiced. (For additional details, read the article on Hemolytic Anemia.)

Liver disease may also result in decreased haptoglobin concentrations as liver damage may inhibit both the production of haptoglobin and the clearing of the haptoglobin-free hemoglobin complexes.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    Haptoglobin testing is used primarily to help detect and evaluate hemolytic anemia and to distinguish it from anemia due to other causes. Testing is used to help determine whether red blood cells (RBCs) are breaking apart or being destroyed prematurely. It may be used in conjunction with other laboratory tests such as a complete blood count (CBC, including RBC count, hemoglobin, hematocrit), reticulocyte count, lactate dehydrogenase, bilirubin, direct antiglobulin test, and blood smear.

    Hemolytic anemia is an uncommon cause of anemia. The condition can be inherited or may develop during a person's lifetime (acquired) due to various factors and may develop suddenly or develop over time. (For more details, see the "What is being tested?" section and the article on Hemolytic Anemia.)

    Though the haptoglobin test is a sensitive test for hemolytic anemia, it cannot be used to diagnose the cause of the condition. Other laboratory tests may be needed to help determine the cause, such as tests for autoantibodies to detect autoimmune causes, sickle cell tests, G6PD, or a hemoglobin evaluation.

    A haptoglobin test may be ordered along with a direct antiglobulin test to help determine whether someone who has received a blood transfusion has had a transfusion reaction (see the article on Transfusion Medicine).

    If a haptoglobin level is low, then testing may be repeated at a later time to evaluate changes in concentration and help determine whether the increased destruction of RBCs is no longer occurring or continues.

  • When is it ordered?

    The haptoglobin test is ordered when someone has symptoms and signs associated with hemolytic anemia. Some signs and symptoms include:

    • Fatigue, weakness
    • Pale skin (pallor)
    • Fainting
    • Shortness of breath
    • A rapid heart rate
    • Jaundice
    • Red or brown urine (from the presence of blood/hemoglobin)

    Testing may also be done when other laboratory test results are consistent with hemolytic anemia. These may show increased bilirubin concentrations (bulirubinemia), hemoglobin in the urine (hemoglobinuria), decreased RBC count, and increased reticulocyte count and lactate dehydrogenase levels.

  • What does the test result mean?

    Results are interpreted carefully and in conjunction with results of other tests, such as a reticulocyte count, red blood cell (RBC) count, hemoglobin (Hb), hematocrit (Hct), or complete blood count (CBC).

    When a haptoglobin level is significantly decreased, along with an increased reticulocyte count and a decreased RBC count, hemoglobin, and hematocrit, then it is likely that the person has some degree of hemolytic anemia with red blood cells destroyed in the circulation (so-called intravascular hemolysis).

    If the haptoglobin is normal or borderline normal and the reticulocyte count is increased, then RBC destruction is likely occurring in organs such as the spleen and liver (so-called extravascular hemolysis). Because the freed hemoglobin is not released into the blood, the haptoglobin is not consumed and so is at a normal level. However, in severe extravascular hemolysis, haptoglobin level can be low because excess hemolysis can release some free hemoglobin into circulation.

    If the haptoglobin concentration is normal and the reticulocyte count is not increased, then it is likely that the anemia present is not due to RBC breakdown.

    The following table summarizes some results that may be seen:

    Haptoglobin Reticulocyte count RBC count, Hemoglobin, Hematocrit Possible interpretation
    Significantly decreased Increased Decreased RBCs are being destroyed within blood vessels (i.e., intravascular hemolysis)
    Normal or slightly decreased Increased Decreased RBCs destruction likely within organs such as spleen and liver (i.e., extravascular hemolysis)
    Normal Not increased Decreased Anemia due to a cause other than RBC destruction (e.g., decrease in RBC production in the bone marrow)

    If haptoglobin is decreased without any signs of hemolytic anemia, then it is possible that the liver is not producing adequate amounts of haptoglobin. This may be seen with liver disease, although haptoglobin is not typically used to diagnose or monitor liver disease.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    Haptoglobin is considered an "acute-phase" protein; this means that it will be elevated in many inflammatory diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, acute rheumatic disease, heart attack, and severe infection. Of a person has one of these conditions, it can complicate the interpretation of the haptoglobin results. Haptoglobin testing is not generally used to help diagnose or monitor these conditions.

    Haptoglobin levels may be affected by massive blood loss and by conditions associated with kidney dysfunction as well as liver disease.

    Drugs that can increase haptoglobin levels include androgens and corticosteroids. Drugs that can decrease haptoglobin concentrations include isoniazid, quinidine, streptomycin, and birth control pills.

    A low level of haptoglobin is normal for newborns and infants of less than 6 months old.

  • If haptoglobin levels are decreased, when will they return to normal?

    It depends on the cause of the decrease. If they are due to acute hemolysis, such as may be seen with a transfusion reaction, then they will return to normal once the donor blood has been cleared from the system. If they are due to chronic hemolysis, then the concentration should return to normal if and when the underlying condition can be resolved. If the underlying condition cannot be resolved or if the decreased concentrations of haptoglobin are due to decreased production due to liver disease, then levels may continue to be lower than normal.

  • Should everyone have a haptoglobin test?

    No, this is not a test that is used for general screening. Most people will never need to have a haptoglobin test performed.

  • Can I have the haptoglobin test done in my healthcare practitioner's office?

    In most cases, no. This test is typically either performed in a hospital laboratory or sent to a reference laboratory.

View Sources

Sources Used in Current Review

2016 review performed by Shawn Clinton, Ph.D., DABCC, Laboratory Director and the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board.

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