Ferritin is a type of protein that binds with iron in the blood. It thus helps store iron in the body. Measurement of ferritin in blood helps know the iron levels. Ferritin helps distribute iron to body cells. Low ferritin indicates iron deficiency, while high ferritin indicates excess of iron in the body which can also prove harmful for the body. A healthy and balanced diet helps maintain normal levels of iron and ferritin in children.
A simple blood test helps measure ferritin. When a routine blood test shows low hemoglobin and low hematocrit, a ferritin test is usually ordered. Intestinal problems leading to affected absorption of iron from diet, low iron in diet, long-term digestive tract bleeding, hypothyroidism, heavy menstrual bleeding in girls, malnutrition, alcohol abuse and certain diseases can result in low ferritin.
Low ferritin level, or iron deficiency anemia, exhibits symptoms like headache, dizziness, excessive tiredness and weakness. Very low levels of ferritin show symptoms like shortness of breath, ringing in ears (tinnitus), drowsiness and increased irritability. Severely anemic children may suffer from chest pain, headache, leg pain, shock and even heart failure. Learning (cognitive) disabilities are common in anemic children. Children with iron deficiency usually develop craving for non food items like licorice, chalk, paint chips, dirt, or clay. They may develop burning sensation in the tongue or a smooth tongue. Other symptoms of iron deficiency include sores at the corners of the mouth, dry mouth or throat, and brittle, spoon-shaped finger and toe nails. Brittle hair, and difficulty in swallowing can also be noticed in anemic children. Low ferritin is often observed in children with restless legs syndrome, even in the absence of anemia and sickness.
Children with low ferritin should consume iron enriched foods like chicken liver, beef liver, trouts, oysters, spinach, potatoes, regularly through balanced diet. They should avoid intake of caffeine (tea or coffee) as caffeine can lower ferritin in the body. Vitamin C plays an important role in absorption of iron. So consumption of foods with vitamin C (citrus fruits, vegetables like spinach, broccoli) can help raise ferritin levels. The doctor may prescribe iron supplements in case of low ferritin.
Ferritin test is also ordered when doctors suspect 'iron overload'. Iron overload can prove harmful for the body, and can lead to several health complications. Excessive accumulation of iron in blood and tissues may exhibit symptoms like lack of energy, joint pain, abdominal pain, heart problems, excessive tiredness, weakness, etc. The condition is known as hemochromatosis (too much of iron absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract) and it is often a genetic condition. Sometimes, very high ferritin (greater than 1,000 ng/mL) is found in such patients. Blood transfusion, daily consumption of alcohol, occurrence of diseases like arthritis, lupus (inflammatory conditions), leukemia, thalassemia, liver problems (cirrhosis or hepatitis) and a high iron diet can lead to iron overdose.
High ferritin is common in children who require frequent blood transfusions, or frequent transfusions of packed red blood cells. Children with chronic infection may also have elevated levels of ferritin. Excessive stress, for example, as in anoxia (the absence or near absence of oxygen) can lead to an increase in ferritin.
Normal Levels of Ferritin in Children and Adults
|Age Group/Gender||Ferritin Levels|
|Newborns||25 - 200 ng/mL|
|Babies : 1 month old||200 - 600 ng/mL|
|Babies : 2 - 5 month old||50 - 200 ng/mL|
|Children : 6 month - 15 yr old||7 - 142 ng/mL|
|Women||18 - 160 ng/mL|
|Men||18 - 270 ng/mL|
Note: ng/mL = nanograms per milliliter.
Both high and low ferritin in children can affect the function of body organs seriously. Iron rich diet and supplements help raise ferritin levels. Therapeutic phlebotomy helps lower the levels of ferritin when they are elevated. The length of the course of treatment and frequency of treatment may vary according to the age of the child, reason behind abnormal amount of ferritin and severity of the symptoms.