The ferritin test is ordered to assess a person's iron stores in the body. The test is sometimes ordered along with an iron test and a TIBC to detect the presence and severity of iron deficiency or iron overload.
In the early stage of iron deficiency, no physical effects are usually seen. If a person is otherwise healthy, symptoms seldom appear before the hemoglobin in the blood drops below a certain level (10 g per deciliter). However, as the iron-deficiency progresses, symptoms eventually begin to develop and a doctor may order ferritin as well as other iron-related tests. The most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:
As iron stores continue to be depleted, there may be shortness of breath, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), drowsiness, and irritability. If the anemia progresses in severity, chest pain, headaches, leg pains, shock, and even heart failure may occur. Children may develop learning (cognitive) disabilities. Besides the general symptoms of anemia, there are certain symptoms that are characteristic of iron deficiency. These include pica (cravings for specific substances, such as licorice, chalk, dirt, or clay), a burning sensation in the tongue or a smooth tongue, sores at the corners of the mouth, and spoon-shaped finger- and toe-nails.
A ferritin level may also be ordered when iron overload is suspected. Symptoms of iron overload will vary from person to person and tend to worsen over time. They are due to iron accumulation in the blood and tissues. Symptoms may include:
Normally, most ferritin is found inside of cells with only a small amount in the blood. When there is damage to organs that contain ferritin, such as the liver, spleen, and bone marrow, ferritin levels can become elevated even though the total amount of iron in the body is normal.
This article was last reviewed on May 28, 2013. | This article was last modified on July 21, 2013.
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