High Ferritin Levels: The Causes, Tests, and Treatments

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

high ferritinIf you are a living organism, you more than likely have ferritin in your system. Ferritin is a cellular protein that is found in pretty much every living being on our planet. Ferritin binds to iron, and it plays an important role in storing iron in the human body. Iron is an essential part of our hemoglobin (red blood cells), which has the primary job of carrying oxygen to the various cells of the body. No iron, no oxygen. But what does high ferritin mean? What causes high ferritin levels?  We’ll take a look at the causes of high ferritin levels, what it means to your health, and what high ferritin treatment is.

What Causes High Ferritin Levels?

Ferritin helps the body store iron for later use. So, what causes high ferritin levels? Generally, high ferritin levels are the result of a few different things. First, it could be the result of an excessive amount of iron in your system. A hereditary condition known as hemochromatosis causes your body to absorb too much iron from your daily diet.  High ferritin levels can also result from things like obesity and inflammation. Ferritin is an “acute phase reactant.” As such, its levels go up in response to any inflammation in the body.

Higher alcohol consumption can also cause ferritin levels to rise. It may also be a sign that some of your organs that use iron, like your liver and/or spleen, are damaged, thus creating a stockpile of iron. Likewise, if your intestines are absorbing more iron than the body actually needs to replace, this also can create a surplus of iron. In short, there are a great number of things that can add up to high ferritin levels. The results of these  excess amounts can manifest themselves in diverse symptoms like:

  • Stomach pain
  • Heart palpitations or chest pains
  • Unexplained weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Unexplained fatigue

The good news is, most of these conditions, and even the high ferritin levels itself, can be treated in multiple ways.

Test and Treatment for People with High Ferritin

You’ve discovered that you have high ferritin levels. Is there any way to manage them? Is there any way to treat them? Luckily, there are a few different treatment options available to you. The most important part of treatment is the first: identification. Before any treatments can begin, not only do the high ferritin levels have to be tested for, but the actual cause of the high ferritin levels must be discovered and treated as well. As you have probably noticed, the causes of high ferritin levels are pretty diverse and wide, which means treatments for those problems can differ greatly.

For example, if your high ferritin levels were triggered by excessive drinking or long-term alcohol abuse, the treatment options will be different from those linked to a damaged spleen or obesity. In order to figure out your ferritin levels in the first place, a small blood test will be done.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that, for men, a normal range for blood ferritin is between 20 and 500 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). For women, the normal range is between 20 and 200 ng/mL. It is important to note that different labs may produce different results. Your doctor will determine whether your particular values fall within the lab’s “high” range.

Once the underlying cause is treated properly, the high ferritin levels may naturally return to normal amounts.  But, if levels remain high, need to be treated alongside the root cause, or are caused by genetics, these are your following options.

1. Venesection

This is probably the simplest and easiest of the treatments. High ferritin levels are due mainly to too much iron in the bloodstream. The solution is to take the iron out by taking some of the blood out. The process of venesection is exactly the same as what you would do if you were donating blood. Blood is removed from the body along with iron, and your body may dump the excess iron it’s storing in the ferritin to where it should go. Now, this treatment can last from two weeks to two years, but even when your levels start monitoring at a regular rate, you may have to do the occasional tune up. Every three to four months for the rest of your life, you may have to have a venesection as a precaution.

2. Chelation

There are some people in this world that may have issues with venesection, and those people may end up using chelation. This is a drug that is often used for medical patients that have had several blood transfusions. The bad news is that this drug can only be administered by constant infusion, which can make the person suffering from high ferritin levels rather uncomfortable. Chelation is also not as effective as venesection.

In terms of treatment, venesection is the preferred method by most doctors, due to the ease of the procedure and its overall effectiveness.

Take Care of Yourself

While some cases of high ferritin levels cannot be helped due to genetics or sudden health issues, many of them can be prevented by taking care of yourself. Keep an eye on your health; and when something goes wrong, make sure to see a doctor. A great deal of health issues that can cause high ferritin levels are also very disastrous to your body on a whole, like liver damage. The sooner you discover one of those issues, the sooner you can get it treated while hopefully avoiding high ferritin levels. Or at the very least, you will be able to treat your high levels quickly.

 


Sources
Stoppler, M.C., “Ferritin Blood Tests,” Medicinet; http://www.medicinenet.com/ferritin_blood_test/page5.htm, last accessed June 23, 2017.
Sigurdsson, A., “Ferritin – High and Low Ferritin Explained,” Doc’s Opinion, June 26, 2016, revised June 21, 2017; http://www.docsopinion.com/2016/06/26/ferritin/,  last accessed June 23, 2017.
Galloway, M., “Clinical Review: Raised Ferritin,” GP, February 18, 2010; http://www.gponline.com/clinical-review-raised-ferritin/haematology/article/984023,  last accessed June 23, 2017.
“Haemochromatosis Treatment,” The Haemochromatosis Society; http://haemochromatosis.org.uk/haemochromatosis/treatment/, last accessed June 23, 2017.

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