Iron Test Fact Sheet

Iron is a crucial mineral for good health, as it is essential to produce hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, people feel run down or fatigued. The body stores iron in an effort to maintain a necessary supply, but people can easily run out.

Almost one third of adults in Australia are iron deficient, and this correlates to the amount of people who do not eat enough iron-rich foods such as legumes, liver and leafy green vegetables. Many breads and cereals are fortified with iron as well. Women are particularly at risk for an iron deficiency worldwide, and women who are menstruating are sometimes low in iron because of normal blood loss.

An iron test alerts doctors that an individual has insufficient amounts of iron in their blood. Low iron levels significantly affect quality of life. It can make it difficult for people to sleep, concentrate and exercise. A simple blood test tells health care professionals what a person’s iron levels are and from there doctors can determine whether a lack of iron in the diet is to blame, or whether the body is having difficulty absorbing iron (often through disease). An iron test can also identify if iron levels in the body are too high, often indicating disease.

Overview of the Test

There are different types of iron test, including the serum iron test, the ferritin test, the iron-binding capacity test (TIBC), and the transferring test. Which type of test is used depends on what information medical professionals require.

A low iron level may indicate anemia through not eating enough iron, poor iron absorption in the body, or chronic gastrointestinal blood loss (such as from a peptic ulcer). Someone who is pregnant also has low levels, and women with significant menstrual bleeding can have low iron too.

Results that are above normal can indicate a range of conditions, including:

  • Deficiency in Vitamin B6 or B12
  • Hepatitis
  • Hepatic necrosis
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Hemolysis
  • Hemosiderosis
  • Iron Poisoning

Evidence and Science behind the Test

Some people suspect that iron may help with cancer prevention. Supplementing with iron may give people energy if they are deficient. Women in particular can feel lethargic when their iron levels are low. Evidence from studies have yet to confirm that iron supplements can assist with cancer prevention or lengthen women’s lives.

How is it done?

An iron test is an easy blood test. A health care professional will use a needle to take blood out of an accessible vein and put it in an airtight container. The blood sample is tested in a laboratory. A normal range is between 60 and 170 micrograms per deciliter of blood.

Who does it?

GPs

When and How Often?

An iron test is appropriate when a person has symptoms of a deficiency such as fatigue or lethargy, or if a doctor suspects that a patient has excessive iron in their body, an iron test is indicated as well. Those with lower or higher iron levels may be tested every few months.

Cost

Insurance companies usually cover iron tests. A blood serum iron test costs around $40 to $60 out of pocket.

Issues

When blood iron levels are low, doctors frequently recommend iron supplements. Women and older adults may also benefit from taking iron supplements. This essential mineral is usually in women’s multivitamins because of the common need for more iron. Men can typically benefit from taking at least 8 milligrams of supplemental iron daily. Their diet should include at least 15 milligrams. Women should take around 18 milligrams and consume at least 30 milligrams from their diet, possibly more when they are on their periods.

Although supplementing with iron may bring levels up and correct a deficiency, some people can experience an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal issues. Taking supplements with food, reducing dosages or trying an iron chelate may relieve any distress.

References

Last reviewed 26/Feb/2014

 

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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.
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