Health & Nutrition
October 20, 2020
• Updated on
3 Jun

What does your Blood Test Report say about Iron Deficiency

iron deficiency report interpretation

It is considered to be the most common micronutrient deficiency in the world. While in adults it affects the hair growth and energy levels of the body, in kids it impacts their mental and physical growth. We are talking about Iron Deficiency, which is believed to the most prevalent single nutrient deficiency. If you have been feeling exhausted, battling restless legs, and struggling with hair fall and brittle nails, there are chances that you are suffering from it.

Iron is an essential element with important functions such as oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and muscle metabolism. Iron deficiency is the main cause of anemia, which is the most prevalent nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting 33% of non-pregnant women, 40% of pregnant women, and 42% of children worldwide.

In adults, iron deficiency can also have negative effects including fatigue, impaired physical performance, and decreased work productivity. It occurs mainly when the requirements of iron increase during rapid periods of growth and development such as in early childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy, but it can also occur at other stages in life as well. In pregnant women, iron deficiency can cause anemia, reduced birth weight, and reduced gestation periods. If there isn’t enough iron in your diet, the iron stores in your body start depleting over time. While mild iron deficiency may go unnoticed as it doesn’t give out any obvious symptoms, severe iron deficiency for a prolonged period can lead to anemia, which has symptoms such as sore mouth and tongue, bitter fingernails, or abnormal curling and softness of the nails called spooning. There are basically three stages of iron deficiency:

  • Iron Depletion: At this stage, the hemoglobin remains normal but the body only has a small amount in iron stores, which is on the verge of running out soon. No significant symptoms occur at this stage.
  • Iron Deficiency: Now at this stage, the hemoglobin and stored iron levels start dropping below normal. Some people may experience symptoms such as fatigue.  
  • Anemia: The hemoglobin levels drop so low that the blood is not able to deliver enough oxygen to your cells. You may experience breathlessness, dizziness, and acute fatigue. It also impacts your immune function and makes you more vulnerable to infection. In kids, this can affect growth and brain development.

It is advisable to consult a doctor if you have been struggling with hair fall, brittle nails, or tiredness. Getting an expert help in time can stop the deficiency from turning to severe. The main test used to diagnose iron deficiency is a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). If there is still any doubt about the cause of anemia after a CBC test, the doctor may advise further testing in order to check the blood levels of iron and ferritin, a protein that binds iron in the blood, which more accurately reflect the body’s iron levels. Reading your medical reports to understand the deficiency requires some expert help.

Here we try to simplify it for you:

Hemoglobin Test (Hb Test) - The test measures how much hemoglobin your red blood cells contain. Hemoglobin is a protein, found in Red Blood Cells (which imparts its red color). It helps red blood cells transport oxygen from lungs to body through your arteries. Normal range: For men, 13.5 to 17.5 grams per deciliter; For women, 12.0 to 15.5 grams per deciliter

Hematocrit test - It is also called Packed Cell Volume and it shows the percentage of RBCs in blood by Volume.

Hb (Hemoglobin) and PCV (Packed Cell Volume) shows how much iron is in the body, which usually does not decrease until the later stages of disease i.e. anemia.

Complete Blood Count Test (CBC Test) - A complete blood count (CBC) is a blood test used to evaluate your overall health and detect a wide range of disorders, including anemia, infection and leukemia. It is a test that counts the cells that make up your blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Serum Ferritin - It is a measure of the stored form of iron. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, releasing it when your body needs it. Ferritin usually lives in your body’s cells, with very little actually circulating in your blood. The greatest concentrations of ferritin are typically in the cells of the liver (known as hepatocytes) and the immune system (known as reticuloendothelial cells).

Serum Iron - It is a measure of iron in serum. The serum is the liquid that’s leftover from your blood when red blood cells and clotting factors have been removed. It is not under a routine check-up. It is done when CBC and Hgb tests give abnormal results.

Transferrin Saturation Test/Transferrin Receptor Test - Transferrin is a protein that binds with iron and transports it to cells in our body. Examining how much iron is in the transferrin proteins can show if you have too much or too little iron in your blood. Low transferrin saturation means iron deficiency (low levels of iron bound to its transporter). High transferrin receptor means iron deficiency. As described, transferrin is the main protein in the blood that binds to iron and carries it to tissues and cells throughout the body. About 80% of iron is transported to the bone marrow, where it is incorporated into the hemoglobin in red blood cells (RBCs), and the rest is mostly stored in other cells and tissues as ferritin and hemosiderin. When transferrin binds to iron, they form a complex. These complexes bind to transferrin receptors found on the surface of cells and the iron is then transported into the cells. Transferrin receptors split from the surface of cells, enter the bloodstream and become soluble transferrin receptors (sTfR). The number of transferrin receptors found on the surface of cells correlates with the level of iron within cells. When the iron level drops, the cells produce more transferrin receptors. As more receptors are produced, more are split from cell surfaces and enter the blood, increasing the level of soluble transferrin receptors. Thus, measuring the level of soluble transferrin receptors (sTfR) is one way of evaluating the amount of iron available in the body.

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Lovneet Batra
Lovneet Batra is a clinical nutritionist with over a decade of experience treating patients and educating people on the benefits of a healthy diet. One of Delhi’s most sought-after nutritionists...
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