Ferritin test

The ferritin test is a blood test which is used to check the levels of iron stored in your body.

Key points:

  1. The amount of ferritin in the blood helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing.
  2. Low ferritin levels often mean that your iron levels are low (iron deficiency) and high ferritin levels can mean a buildup of iron in the body.
  3. To perform a ferritin test, a blood sample is drawn from a vein in the arm, and collected in a tube. This tube is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

What is ferritin?

  • Ferritin is a protein in the body that binds to iron; most of the iron stored in the body is bound to ferritin. 
  • The amount of ferritin in the blood helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing.

When is a ferritin test done?

A ferritin test is ordered when your doctor suspects that you have low iron stores (iron deficiency or iron deficiency anaemia when very low) or suspects you may have too much iron (iron overload or haemochromatosis). It can also be ordered to check if treatment to raise or lower your iron levels are working.

The ferritin test is often ordered along with other blood tests such as a full blood count (FBC).

How to prepare for the test?

You do not need to do anything before having this test.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by a needle placed in a vein in the arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight for a few seconds. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a small brief sting or pinch. The blood sample is collected in a tube, which is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

What do my ferritin test results mean?

Interpreting blood test results is not always easy and is best done in consultation with your healthcare team. They will know what is normal for you and what these results mean given your health profile.

Low ferritin levels

Low ferritin levels often mean that your iron levels are low (iron deficiency).

High ferritin levels

High ferritin levels can mean a buildup of iron in the body (hemochromatosis).
This condition may be passed on in families (called genetic hemochromatosis) or may be caused by:

  • diseases such as alcoholism, thalassemia, and some types of anaemia that cause red blood cells to be destroyed
  • multiple blood transfusions, which can sometimes cause the body to store too much iron
  • Hodgkin's disease, leukaemia, infection, inflammatory conditions (such as arthritis or lupus)
  • a diet that is too high in iron.

Learn more 

The following links provide more information on the ferritin and full blood count test. Be aware that websites from other countries may contain information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.

Blood test safety information Labtests NZ
Lab tests Online  Australasian Association of Clinical Biochemists

Credits: Editorial team.