Iron is a quintessential mineral that is extremely important in the proper functioning of hemoglobin, a protein in the blood that helps carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of the body. Apart from this it also helps the body in making red blood cells, provides energy, improves focus, promotes gastrointestinal processes, bolsters the immune system, and even regulates body temperature. People usually enhance the iron levels in their body by consuming foods rich in iron like red meat and fortified cereals or even from supplements. The stellar benefits of iron often get unnoticed until a person lacks it. And this deficiency can often lead to anemia causing fatigue, breathlessness, heart palpitations, and pale skin. So, it is always necessary to know the amount of this vital nutrient present in the body.
What Is An Iron Test?
An Iron test measures the different substances in the blood to check the iron levels in your body. The blood test also analyses whether you have high or low levels of iron in the blood and can even check for conditions like anemia, or iron overload (excess iron). The Iron Test is also known as Fe Test, or Iron indices.
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What Are The Types Of Iron Test?
There are different types of iron tests to check the level of iron in the body. These tests analyze and check how much of the mineral is moving through your blood, how much iron is stored in your tissues or how well the blood carries it. There are 5 types of tests which are either done separately or sometimes altogether along with other blood tests. These include:
Serum Iron Test: This test just measures the amount of iron in your blood.
Serum Ferritin Test: This test measures how much of iron is stored in your body.
Total Iron-binding capacity (TIBC): This test tells how much transferrin (a protein) is free to carry iron through the blood or how well the iron attaches to transferrin or other proteins in the blood. A high TIBC usually refers that there is more free transferrin which indicates low iron levels in the blood.
Unsaturated Iron-Binding Capacity (UIBC): This test is the opposite of TIBC and usually measures how much transferrin isn’t attached to the iron; i.e., the amount of free transferrin.
Transferrin saturation: This test measures the percentage of transferrin that is attached to iron in the blood.
Apart from the above-mentioned tests, the doctor may also conduct other blood tests to check your iron levels. These include:
- Complete blood count
- Hemoglobin test
- Hematocrit test
- Mean corpuscular volume
Why Is It Done?
An Iron Test is chiefly carried out to look for the following:
- To check if your iron levels are too low, which might be a sign of anemia
- To diagnose different types of anemic conditions
- To check if your iron levels are too high, which might refer to hemochromatosis
- To analyze if treatments conducted for iron deficiency (low iron levels) or excess iron (high iron levels) are working fine
When Should You Go For An Iron Test?
The doctor usually asks a person to go for an iron test after an analyzing the physical symptoms that might be an indicator of low or high iron levels in the body. These physical symptoms include:
Symptoms of low iron levels include:
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
Symptoms of high iron levels include:
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of energy
- Weight loss
When Does A Person Suffer From Low/High Iron Levels?
A person usually suffers from low iron levels in the blood if they avoid taking iron rich food or they prefer a diet that has low iron imbued food items, or if their body has trouble absorbing the iron from the foods or supplements, they intake. Low iron levels can also happen due to intense blood loss or even during pregnancy. Similarly, an excess amount of iron in the blood can occur due to over intake of iron supplements, blood transfusions or if you are suffering from a condition called hemochromatosis (a rare genetic disorder that causes too much iron to build up in the body or cause problems in the body to remove excess iron).
How To Administer An Iron Test?
Since the iron test is usually conducted along with other blood tests, the doctor usually suggests to fast (not eat or drink) for 12 hours before going for the test next day morning.
The iron test is usually conducted by a pathologist or doctor. The trained personnel first wraps an elastic band around the arm, causing the veins to bulge out slightly. The practitioner then sterilizes the particular area and inserts a small sterilized needle into the vein and collects the blood in a sterile vial. Once the blood is drawn, he or she removes the elastic band and asks you to put slight pressure on the puncture site to stop any leakage of blood and allow it heal fast.
Are There Any Side Effects Of The Iron Test?
There are usually no reported side effects from taking an iron test apart from slight pain and bruising at the puncture site that too only for some time after which it usually subsides on application of an ice pack or on its own. In very rare case scenarios, there were reports of infection at the puncture site, excessive bleeding, or dizziness.
How To Interpret Iron Test Results?
A detailed blood report determines the level of iron found in your blood. The level of iron in the blood is chiefly measured in micrograms of iron per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL).
The reports are usually considered normal, if the iron level in the different test come within the following range:
Iron: 60 to 170 mcg/dL
Transferrin saturation: 25 percent to 35 percent
Total iron binding capacity (TIBC): 240 to 450 mcg/dL
If one or more iron test results show that your iron levels are too low, it may mean you have one of the following conditions:
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Gastrointestinal blood loss
However, if one or more of the iron test results show that your iron levels are too high, it may indicate that you have:
- Hemolytic anemia or hemolysis
- Lead poisoning
- Liver disease
- Hepatic necrosis (liver failure) or hepatitis
- Iron poisoning
It should be kept in mind that certain medications like birth control pills and estrogen treatments, can affect iron levels. The level of iron in the blood may also be lower for women during their menstrual cycles.
The above given numbers are just estimates. If your test result is slightly higher or lower than the normal levels, it does not necessarily mean that you have any health condition. In any condition, you must consult a doctor for further diagnosis or interpretation of test result. And even if you have low or high iron levels, you need not worry, as it can be easily treated with consumption of iron supplements, following a specific diet, taking medicines, or going for other therapies.