Medical Q&As

ESR - what does it mean?

I have been very run down recently with swollen glands and pains in my ears. My doctor mentioned something about a blood test called an ESR. Can you tell me what an ESR is?

The letters ESR stand for erythrocyte sedimentation rate. It is a simple and inexpensive test that is frequently ordered by doctors during routine investigations. The test measures the distance that red blood cells or erythrocytes have fallen in a vertical column of thinned or anticoagulated blood under the influence gravity. It is a non-specific test that is generally elevated if inflammation is present in the body. For example, the ESR tends to be elevated in the case of infectious diseases and during acute flare-ups of arthritis. Women tend to have a marginally higher ESR than men and the figure is generally higher in the older population. Pregnancy also causes the ESR to rise. I would not be concerned or alarmed if your ESR was elevated on the basis of the symptoms you describe. Upper respiratory tract symptoms tend to give rise to an increase in the ESR.