Ferritin test

The ferritin test is a blood test used to check the levels of iron stored in your body. It is done when your doctor suspects you may not have enough iron (leading to anaemia) or too much iron in your system.

On this page, you can find the following information:

What is ferritin?

Ferritin is a protein in the body that binds to iron. Ferritin is present mostly in the liver, but also in the bone marrow, spleen and muscles. Most of the iron stored in your body is bound to ferritin. The amount of ferritin in the blood helps your doctor understand how much iron your body is storing.

Normally, ferritin is mainly found inside the cells in your body, with only a small amount in the blood. When there is damage to organs that contain ferritin, and when inflammation is present, ferritin levels can be raised even though the total amount of iron in the body is normal. Ferritin levels may not be particularly helpful if measured in people with liver disease, long-term infections, cancer or autoimmune diseases.

When is a ferritin test done?

A ferritin test is ordered when your doctor suspects that you have low iron stores (iron deficiency which is called iron deficiency anaemia when it's 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 is 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

Generally, you won't need to do anything before having this test. It can be done at any time of the day. It is a simple blood test where a small amount of blood is taken by placing a needle in a vein in your arm. Read more about blood tests.

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 build up of iron in the body (haemochromatosis). This condition may be passed on in families (called genetic haemochromatosis) or it may be acquired haemochromatosis 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 your 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 ferritin and full blood count tests. 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: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Gwenda Lawrence, medical laboratory scientist, Auckland Last reviewed: 20 Nov 2019