Ferritin is a protein in the body that stores and releases iron. A ferritin test, or iron test, measures the amount of ferritin in the blood. High levels indicate the body is storing too much iron. Low ferritin levels indicate an iron deficiency.
There are many causes of iron deficiency that lead to abnormally lowered ferritin levels. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common cause for low levels. Other causes can include liver diseases, hypothyroidism, acute hepatitis, long-term digestive tract bleeds, and malnutrition. If a woman has abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding, ferritin levels can be low.
Iron deficiency and low ferritin levels are linked, so the symptoms are the same. Dizziness, fatigue, and headaches are common. People may also experience loss of appetite, pale skin or eye color, irritability, and brittle nails. In more rare instances, an urge to eat non-foods or compulsive ice eating has been reported.
When symptoms occur, doctors will first order a blood test. If smaller red blood cell counts and hemoglobin levels appear low, this leads to a ferritin test along with other iron tests. The results of this test generally leads to a diagnosis of an iron deficiency because the ferritin levels are below normal range.
Low ferritin levels are measured from the ferritin test, which is much like a standard blood test. In some cases, the test may need to be performed more than once. As iron levels drop, iron stores start getting used in an effort to try to replace the iron. Another second test would show a decrease, even if it is minimal.
There are quite a few methods used to treat low ferritin and iron deficiency. The first is a change in dietary requirements. Increasing foods that are rich in iron helps in two ways. Iron rich foods, such as soybeans, spinach, and broccoli, help to raise iron levels naturally while also increasing the amount of iron that is stored by the ferritin protein.
Adding supplements is another way to treat low ferritin levels. Iron supplements, such as ferrous sulfate, are available both over the counter and by prescription. Many doctors recommend taking vitamin C supplements with iron supplements. Vitamin C helps the body absorb the iron.
Treating low ferritin levels quickly is important. Iron deficiency causes problems with red blood cells. When the body doesn’t have enough iron, it cannot make red blood cells. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients distributed through the body by the blood. If low iron is left untreated, serious problems can occur, such as heart problems.