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Ferritin Blood Test: What High Level of Ferritin Is Concerning?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

Table of Contents

 friendly hospital phlebotomist collecting blood sample from patient in lab preparation for blood test by female doctor

An increased ferritin level could indicate iron absorption beyond the healthy limit. Depending on what is causing the high ferritin levels in the blood, the severity of the condition can vary.

Nonetheless, an elevated ferritin level can be alarming if it’s far above the upper limit of the normal range, which is around 200 ng/mL to 380 ng/mL, depending on age, sex, and the standards of the lab performing the test. A value that exceeds 1000 ng/mL is concerning as it could suggest chronic diseases that need immediate medical treatment. 

Find out about the dangers of high serum ferritin levels, its treatment, and how you can help reduce it. 

Ferritin Blood Test Overview

A ferritin blood test measures the level of ferritin – a protein that stores iron in all cells – which provides information about how much iron you have in your body. 

Physicians typically request this test to help diagnose iron deficiency anemia and iron overload, as well as to aid in the detection of illnesses like liver disease and some cancers.

However, a ferritin lab test alone cannot accurately lead to a diagnosis. While it provides vital data about blood protein, it does not uncover its cause. Hence, you’ll have to take other tests in conjunction with the ferritin test, such as the transferrin blood test and iron-binding capacity (TIBC) blood test panel, which also make up the comprehensive iron profile blood test.  

Did You Know? Iron overload can be indicated not just by high ferritin but also by increased TIBC. Find out more about what a high TIBC level means, its causes, and its treatment. 

Ferritin Blood Test Meaning

Normal ferritin levels differ in terms of age and sex. For example, for men at 19 to 59, healthy ferritin level ranges from 38-380 ng/mL. On the other hand, the normal levels for women aged 41 to 60 range from 16-232 ng/mL. 

However, these values can vary depending on the laboratory where you’re testing. Nonetheless, exceeding the upper limit indicates high ferritin levels, which can be associated with several health conditions. On the other hand, iron-deficiency anemia can be shown by low ferritin levels beyond the lower limit of the normal range. 

What Ferritin Level Is Dangerously High?

Ferritin above 1,000 ng/mL can suggest alarming diseases, such as cancers, liver cirrhosis, and certain infections. 

Generally, test values over the normal range indicate iron overload. Additionally, ferritin in serum at 400 ng/mL can imply inflammation, potentially linked to the abovementioned illnesses. 

Causes of High Ferritin Levels

Aside from dietary iron surplus, elevated ferritin levels can be associated with the following health conditions. 

Hemochromatosis: This is a genetic condition wherein the body has no limit in terms of iron absorption. Hemochromatosis is hereditary and can be traced back to a defective gene. Left untreated, it leads to iron buildup that soon becomes toxic for the tissues, leading to more severe health afflictions.

Inflammatory disorders: Inflammation can drive an increase in ferritin levels. Hence, it can be linked to conditions in which inflammation chronically develops. These include rheumatoid arthritis, Still’s disease, fatty liver disease, acute infections, and chronic diseases like diabetes and certain cancers. 

Hyperthyroidism: People diagnosed with an overactive thyroid like that in Grave’s disease often have elevated iron due to the increased production of ferritin. That said, improving your thyroid function can aid in the prevention of such a condition. 

Heart Problems: Increased ferritin levels show in patients with cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis. After all, it is a risk factor for heart conditions and their mortality rate. One way to protect yourself from the said risk is by taking heart health blood tests, even as young as in your 20s

Sideroblastic anemia: Also known as SA, sideroblastic anemia is rare but significantly affects red blood cell (RBC) function. It is characterized by the production of abnormal red blood cells containing hemoglobins that do not integrate iron. As a result, iron accumulates in the blood, and the RBCs fail to deliver oxygen to the cells, leading to various health problems. 

Did You Know? Anemia comes in different types and degrees of impact on your health. Find out more about how this condition brings dangerous complications and everything you need to know about anemia

While these disorders are closely linked to high serum ferritin, the condition alone does not strengthen the diagnosis. You will have to take other tests depending on factors like symptoms, your health record, and other risk factors. 

How To Lower Your Ferritin Levels? 

A high ferritin level will not go down on its own. Plus, you have to ensure that it normalizes before other debilities develop. Here are three ways to lower ferritin your doctor will likely prescribe or recommend. 

Phlebotomy (Iron-rich Blood Removal)

Phlebotomy or venesection is a process of removing blood from the body, which in turn, reduces ferritin. The first stage of the treatment, also known as induction, requires a pint of blood extraction once or twice a week until serum iron levels are normal. After which, the frequency is reduced to two to four times a year for maintenance.

Having your blood drawn can be daunting, especially if you fear needles and blood tests in general. Learn how you can prepare for the procedure when you read out tips for getting blood drawn during a lab test.

Chelation Therapy

Another form of increased ferritin treatment includes chelation therapy or taking certain medications that bind and flush iron out and dietary adjustments. This alternative is only recommended with chelation therapy if you cannot undergo regular blood removal due to clinical reasons.  

Lifestyle Changes

Keep in mind that the body does not produce its own iron. Instead, the mineral is absorbed from foods consumed along with other nutrients. Thus, you can aid in remedying the increased ferritin level by adjusting your diet and avoiding foods rich in iron on top of the treatments. 

You can do this by removing iron-rich foods from your diet, particularly sources of heme iron (found in animal flesh).

  • Poultry
  • Red meat
  • Fish and shellfish
  • Iron-fortified food

Non-heme iron, found in plants, is absorbed less quickly, which is why it’s generally acceptable to consume iron-rich fruits and vegetables like leafy greens. Still, it has to be regulated. Nonetheless, if you are unsure about your iron intake after testing high for ferritin, consult with your doctor. 

Additionally, as you reduce your consumption of iron-rich foods, increase your intake of foods high in antioxidants. Doing so can protect your tissues from the damage caused by hemochromatosis. Include the following in your grocery list:

  • Oranges
  • Broccoli 
  • Spinach 
  • Asparagus
  • Carrots
  • Kale 
  • Pumpkin
  • Potatoes 

Aside from your diet, you will most likely have to give up some habits that aggravate iron overload or its potential complications, particularly smoking and alcohol drinking. Substances absorbed in both activities adversely impact iron levels and cause further damage to the liver and lungs.

If you’re planning to let go of smoking for good, there are several things you have to keep in mind to make sure you succeed with your health goal. Check out the mistakes you should avoid when quitting smoking. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat high levels of ferritin?

The first line of treatment for patients with high ferritin levels is phlebotomy – the extraction of iron-rich blood. It’s essentially the same as when you’re donating blood, only different in purpose. 

Your doctor can also get you into chelation therapy if you’re not suited for regular blood removal. In addition, you may have to adjust your diet and other aspects of your lifestyle. 

What symptoms does high ferritin cause?

An elevated ferritin level can have symptoms like abdominal pain, fatigue, joint pain, low libido or sexual desire, skin discoloration, sudden weight loss, and heart problems – which are also symptoms of iron overload. If not addressed immediately, this condition can worsen and lead to liver damage, diabetes, thyroid problems, and heart disease. 

What cancers show high ferritin levels?

Multiple clinical studies show high ferritin levels among those diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer), T-cell lymphoma, cervical cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and colorectal cancer. This is because iron overload can be observed with malignant tumors due to inflammation and oxidative stress. 

The Bottom Line

Ferritin blood test reveals more than just abnormalities in your serum iron. It also provides additional information for conditions involving your kidneys, heart, lungs, and other vital organs, which aids your doctor in prescribing the proper treatment. 

If your blood test reveals a high ferritin level, you will most likely take other tests to diagnose the exact cause of the condition, which could include the TIBC blood test panel. And if you’re unsure about the next steps to take, you can avail of our telehealth consultation, where a healthcare professional will provide you with the proper guidance you need.   

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