Medical Q&As

Ferritin - significance of high level?

Following a blood test, I was tested for haemochromatosis, as my ferritin was very high. This was around June 2000. I was told that I did not have the disease. The position was further monitored last December and the ferritin level was still high. The consultant decided to do nothing for the moment and I am to come back to him next December having had the ferritin measured again with a blood test. My G.P. arranged for a test to be done last week as he was taking other tests. The ferritin was still very high. My question is: what is the difference between someone like me and someone who has the disease, with both of us measuring the same level of iron overload? Why is blood not being taken from me to minimise any danger of organ disease?

Haemochromatosis is not the only cause of an elevated serum ferritin. Ferritin can also be elevated in the case of viral hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, haemolytic anaemia, megaloblastic anaemia and in some cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In other words an elevated ferritin level is not synonymous with a diagnosis of haemochromatosis. The significance of a raised ferritin level has to be interpreted in the context of other test results. The TS (transferrin saturation) is particularly important in making a diagnosis of haemochromatosis, as is the detection of the particular genetic marker for that condition. Since you have been specifically told that you don’t have haemochromatosis I must assume that these additional blood tests were not abnormal. Furthermore not every person with a high ferritin level is at risk of depositing excessive amounts of iron in the various organs of the body. The crucial consideration here is the degree of excess. In the case of haemochromatosis the excess amounts of iron are many multiples above the upper normal limits. You may have a high level without being near such excessively high levels.