Ferritin is a protein found in the blood that stores iron reserves in the cells. The ferritin serum level in the blood is related to the content of iron stored in the body. The normal ferritin count for an average adult male is 30-300 ng/mL and for females the levels should be 15-200 ng/mL. If there is low ferritin in the body, then it may indicate that the individual does not have sufficient iron in his body. To avoid the occurrence of iron deficiency anemia, it is essential to have a balanced level of iron in the body.
Iron can be acquired naturally by eating foods rich in iron and vitamin C and also by taking a few prescribed nutritional supplements that contain iron and other essential nutrients. Just as low levels in the body is not good, similarly an increase in the levels of ferritin can lead to many complications. A very high level that is more than 1000 ng/mL can indicate buildup of excess iron in the body. This condition can also be a symptom underlying diseases like hemolytic anemia, alcoholic liver disease and megaloblastic anemia, etc.
One of the basic causes for a hike in the ferritin level in the body is genetic predisposition i.e. a hereditary disorder called hemochromatosis. In this disorder, the body tends to absorb iron, more than required. This excess iron gets accumulated in various organs of the body, such that it is unable to process any more iron, resulting in this health condition. However the cause need not be genetic every time. High ferritin levels may also occur due to disorders in the blood, intake of excessive iron through supplements, frequent transfusion therapy and chronic hepatitis. Moreover, Hodgkin's disease, inflammatory disorders like lupus and liver diseases, etc, can also be the causative factor for a spiked ferritin level.
Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver is yet another reason for observing an elevation in the ferritin levels. In liver cirrhosis, the tissues are completely destroyed due to repeated inflammation, which becomes an irreversible condition. The formation of fibrous scars on the organ makes it difficult for the removal of excess transferrin in the red blood cells. Accumulation of too much iron in the body may result in the damage of the organ and in the long run may even prove to be fatal.
Adult Still's disease is also one of the triggers for abnormal levels of this protein in the blood. This is an inflammatory disorder, rare in occurrence, which mainly affects the joints and results in chronic arthritis. Some indications of this condition are sore throat (being observed as the first sign) followed by high grade fever, rashes and pain in the joints. Unfortunately, the cause of this disease is still unknown and it can also affect children suffering from juvenile arthritis.
Signs and Symptoms
In the initial stages, high ferritin does not show any symptoms. But the symptoms tend to surface with the passage of time. One of the most common symptoms of a sudden rise in ferritin in the body is pain in the joints, since the excess iron in the body gets accumulated in the joints. This can result in pain that is radiated in the entire body. Some other signs and symptoms that are an indication for raised levels of ferritin are lethargy, general body weakness accompanied by fatigue, loss of libido, darkening of the skin, especially under the armpits and skin folds, pain in the abdomen. Cardiovascular problems and heart diseases can also be indicators for high levels of this protein in the blood.
A simple method to diagnose the overload of ferritin is to undergo blood tests namely serum ferritin and transferrin saturation. The individual needs to fast before undergoing both these tests. Another method to lower the erratic levels is therapeutic phlebotomy, which is a process that involves the removal of a particular volume of blood from the body. This therapy can be undertaken on a weekly basis and one unit of blood is removed till the ferritin drops down to normal levels.
The doctor also monitors the levels of this blood protein in the body throughout the procedure. Once the ferritin has reached the required level, the frequency of the process is reduced and the patient may have to undergo therapeutic phlebotomy, thrice in a year. However, this method of treatment depends upon the age and gender of the patient and the severity of the symptoms.
In order to keep a track of elevated ferritin, go for a regular blood test that will reveal the levels of ferritin in the body. Always consult a doctor if you develop any complications. Take care!