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FAQs

Iron Test

What is an iron test?

An iron blood test checks the level of iron in your blood. Iron is a mineral that is absorbed into the body through foods such as spinach, red meats, fortified cereals, or seafood. Iron helps your body make red blood cells which carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. Iron also helps maintain muscle, bone marrow health, and organ function.

Several tests measure iron levels in the blood:

- Serum iron test: This test measures the amount of iron in the blood.

- Serum ferritin: This test measures how much iron is stored in the body. When blood iron levels are low, your body will pull from these stores of the mineral as supplementation.

- Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC): A TIBC test measures the levels of free transferrin present in the blood. Transferrin is a protein that carries iron through the blood. Transferrin free from iron may indicate low iron levels.

- Transferrin test: A transferrin test measures transferrin levels in the blood.

Your doctor may recommend or order an iron test if they suspect that you have an excessive or deficient level of the mineral in your blood. This can help diagnose conditions such as iron overload (excess iron) or anemia (low red blood cell counts caused by chronic iron deficiency).

Who needs an iron test?

An iron test may be ordered if your doctor suspects that you have excessive or deficient levels of iron in your blood.

Symptoms of low iron levels include:
- Fatigue
- Dizziness
- Pale skin
- Weakness
- Headaches
- Rapid heartbeat


Symptoms of excessive iron levels include:
- Joint pain
- Fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Weakness


An iron blood test may be used to monitor the efficacy of iron supplementation. In other cases, an iron test can be used to diagnose iron conditions such as iron overload (excessive iron levels) or anemia (low red blood cell counts caused by an iron deficiency).

Excessive iron is commonly caused by iron supplementation alongside an already iron-rich diet (high in red meats, leafy greens, and seafood). Liver disease, lead poisoning, or hemochromatosis may also cause excess levels of iron in the blood. Low iron levels may be caused by a lack of iron in the diet, difficulty absorbing the minerals, blood loss, or pregnancy.

How do I prepare for an iron test?

An iron test may require you to fast for twelve hours before the appointment. As your doctors about how to specifically fast for the test. In most cases, this means refraining from eating or drinking for 12 hours before the test. Because fasting is normally required, it is recommended that you schedule your iron test first thing in the morning.

What happens during an iron test?

Most blood tests are performed at a primary care office, often as a part of a routine check-up.

If you are undergoing an iron test in a primary care clinic, your blood will be drawn for testing. During your appointment, your arm will be wrapped in a band to push blood into the veins of the arm. This makes it easier to insert the needle that will be drawing blood from that area. You may feel a slight pinch as the needle is inserted into your arm, but this sensation should pass within a few seconds. The needle draws blood from a vein in your arm, depositing it into a vial or test tube. Some individuals or tests may require multiple tubes to be filled.

After the needed about of blood has been drawn, the needle will be taken out of your arm and the puncture site will be cleaned and bandaged. The blood will then be sent to a lab for testing and analysis.

You will get your results for most tests in 1-3 business days. Depending on the results of your blood test, your health care provider may request follow-up testing to provide a definitive diagnosis of any health conditions or diseases they may detect. However, in most cases, an iron test is enough to definitively diagnose an excessive or deficient level of the mineral in the blood.

What do the results of an iron test mean?

Iron tests are used to diagnose high or low levels of iron in the blood. An imbalance of mineral levels may be caused by supplementation, diet, or conditions such as pregnancy. Abnormal iron levels may also be caused by health conditions that require treatment.

Low levels of iron in the blood may be caused by conditions such as:

- Anemia: Anemia is defined as a low red blood cell count. Anemia makes it difficult for red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to various parts of the body, resulting in fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and a rapid heart rate.

- Thalassemia: Thalassemia is an inherited condition that involves low levels of hemoglobin - a substance that helps red blood cells carry oxygen. Thalassemia may cause anemia and may result in symptoms such as slowed growth, fatigue, dizziness, and weakness.

Excessive levels of iron in the blood may be caused by conditions such as:

- Dangerous iron supplementation: Taking too much iron can lead to toxic side effects that cause abdominal pain, joint pain, fatigue, and weakness.

- Hemochromatosis: A inherited disorder that causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat. Excessive levels of iron may cause liver disease, heart problems, and diabetes.

Talk to your doctor about treatment options if you are diagnosed with mineral imbalances. Do not start taking iron supplements, or discontinuing the use of prescribed supplements, until you are instructed to do so by your doctor.