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Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, mainly in the liver, releasing it when it is needed. Iron is used to make haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that gives them their colour, and which carries oxygen through the bloodstream. The amount of ferritin that is circulating in your blood reflects the total amount of iron stored in your body. A ferritin test can be requested by itself but it is also ordered as part of a group of tests known as iron studies which includes other tests relating to the body's iron levels.

Why get tested?

Iron is stored inside cells in a protein called ferritin. When the body needs to make more red blood cells the iron stored in ferritin is released into the bloodstream where it is transported to the bone marrow where blood cells are made.
When it does this a small amount of ferritin is released from the cells and circulates in the blood.  Your ferritin levels reflect the total amount of iron stored in the body.

By measuring the amount of ferritin in the blood your doctor can assess whether you have adequate iron stores.  If your iron stores are too low (iron deficiency) your body will not be able to make all the new haemoglobin it needs and anaemia may develop.  It is also possible to have too much iron in the body which can also cause health problems.  

For more information about how the body uses iron and what happens if you do not have enough or if you have too much, see the Test called Iron Studies

Having the test



Any preparation?

There is no special preparation required before this test.

Your results

Reading your test report
Your results will be presented along with those of your other tests on the same form.  You will see separate columns or lines for each of these tests. 

Low ferritin levels are usually due to iron deficiency.  Ferritin may be low before there is evidence of anaemia (a low haemoglobin).

A high ferritin level may be due to having too much iron.  However, ferritin levels also increase when there is inflammation in the body such as during an infection, after an operation, or in someone with an autoimmune disease.  This means a high ferritin level can be difficult to interpret on its own.  Your doctor will use the results of other blood tests and your symptoms to better understand the ferritin result.
Because ferritin goes up during inflammation it is also possible to have iron deficiency despite the ferritin being normal or even high.  Your doctor will consider this when interpreting your results.

A summary of the changes in iron tests seen in various disorders is shown in the Table.

DisorderFerritinIronTIBC or TransferrinPercentage of transferrin saturation
Iron deficiencyLowLowHighLow
Chronic illnessNormal or HighLowLowLow
Heamolytic anaemiaHighHighNormal or LowHigh
Sideroblastic anaemiaHighNormal or HighNormal or LowHigh
Iron poisoningNormalHighNormal High


Reference intervals 
Your results will be compared to reference intervals (sometimes called a normal range).

  • Reference intervals are the range of results expected in most healthy people of the same age and sex. 
  • Your results may be flagged high or low if they sit outside this range
  • Many reference intervals vary between labs so only those that are standardised or harmonised across most laboratories are given on this website.

If your results are flagged as high or low this does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong. Blood test results must be interpreted with an understanding of your own particular symptoms and medical history.  For this reason, your results are best interpreted by your doctor. 

Questions to ask your doctor

The choice of tests your doctor makes will be based on your medical history and symptoms.   It is important that you tell themeverything you think might help.

You play a central role in making sure your test results are accurate. Do everything you can to make sure the information you provide is correct and follow instructions closely.

Talk to your doctor about any medications you are taking. Find out if you need to fast or stop any particular foods or supplements. These may affect your results. Ask:

  • Why does this test need to be done?
  • Do I need to prepare (such as fast or avoid medications) for the sample collection?
  • Will an abnormal result mean I need further tests?
  • How will the results from this test change the course of my care?
  • What will happen next, after the test?

Any more to know?

If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency you may need to take iron supplements.  Alternatively, your doctor may arrange for you to have an intravenous iron infusion.  In very severe iron deficiency due to bleeding, you may require a blood transfusion.  It is not recommended to take iron supplements unless advised to do so by your doctor.
There are many causes of iron deficiency.  Your doctor will discuss the possible causes with you and will arrange any further necessary tests.

Iron deficiency anaemia comes on gradually. When the rate of iron loss is more than the amount of iron you absorb from your diet the first thing that occurs is that iron stores are used up. In this stage, ferritin will be low, but iron and transferrin may be normal and there is no anaemia. As iron deficiency worsens, blood iron levels fall, TIBC and transferrin rise, and red blood cells may start to become small and pale, but there is still an adequate number of red blood cells. With prolonged or severe iron deficiency, anaemia develops.

More information

 Pathology and diagnostic imaging reports can be added to your My Health Record. You and your healthcare provider can now access your results whenever and wherever needed.

Get further trustworthy health information and advice from healthdirect.

Last Updated: Thursday, 1st June 2023

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