Low Ferritin levels

Ferritin is a blood cell protein that stores iron. It occurs in the spleen, liver, bone marrow, and skeletal muscles. This iron containing protein releases iron whenever the iron content in blood falls below the normal amounts. Ferritin stores the excess iron and thus prevents elevated iron levels in the body. Low ferritin levels are a symptom of iron deficiency.

A ferritin test shows the levels of ferritin in the blood. This test helps a physician identify the levels of iron that gets stored in the body.In normal and healthy people, ferritin levels typically fall within the range of 12 to 300 nanograms per milliliter of blood, in men; while it falls between 12 to 150 nanograms per milliliter of blood, in women. Any variation from these normal levels of ferritin, whether it is high or low ferritin levels, indicates an imbalance in the iron levels occurring in the body.

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Symptoms of low ferritin levels

Low ferritin levels makes it difficult for the body to hold iron. This is what results in the characteristic symptoms of low ferritin levels or iron deficiency. Some of the common signs and symptoms of low ferritin levels are listed below:

  • Patients may experience chronic fatigue. Even minimal amounts of physical activity can make them tired.
  • Hair follicles consist of ferritin. Hence, low ferritin levels tend to result in premature hair loss.
  • Patients may suffer from sudden reduction in their energy levels. Their stamina also depreciates significantly.
  • Low ferritin levels can impair the functioning of the thyroid glands. This can result in decreased production of thyroid hormones, thereby increasing the risk to hypothyroidism and other thyroid disorders.
  • Low ferritin levels can result in nail anomalies such as brittle nails. The nails become increasingly weak and tend to break off easily.
  • The skin also contains ferritin, just under the epidermis. Hence, low ferritin levels can lead to excessive skin dryness, and pale cold skin.
  • Patients may also suffer from an eating disorder called pagophagia, wherein affected individuals crave for ice rather than normal food. This condition is caused due to iron deficiency that arises because of low ferritin levels.
  • Blood iron plays a vital role in the efficient flow of oxygen-rich blood form the lungs to the varied parts of the body. As low ferritin levels diminish the iron content in the body, untreated cases of low ferritin in body can eventually lead to breathing abnormalities.
  • Other symptoms that may be observed in people with low ferritin levels include dizziness, throbbing, poor appetite, weakness, cold feet and hands, irritability, pale eye color, loss of libido, migraine headaches, and pica or craving for non-food items.

A CBC and other specific blood tests are performed when a person experiencing the above listed symptoms visits a doctor. Doctors may order for a ferritin test along with total iron binding capacity, serum iron test, and transferrin saturation if the CBC reveals anomalous RBC appearance, and decreased hematocrit and hemoglobin levels. If the ferritin tests indicate low iron levels in the body, then early treatment can prevent the onset of anemia.

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Causes of low ferritin levels

Some of the common causes of low ferritin levels are listed below:

  • Impaired iron absorption:Sometimes the body may not be able to absorb or accumulate iron content occurring in the consumed food, leading to iron deficiency. For example, people with varied digestive conditions like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease may suffer from deficient iron absorption. Vitamin C also plays an important role in the absorption of iron. Hence lack of vitamin C can also result in low ferritin levels.
  • Deficiency of iron:Individuals who do not consume sufficient amounts of iron through the diet are vulnerable to developing iron deficiency anemia. When this occurs, the body begins using the iron accumulated in the different tissues as ferritin. In the starting stages, the quantity of iron in blood may stay normal. However, over a course of time the levels of such stored iron start to diminish causing low ferritin levels.
  • Other health disorders: Different research has indicated that excessive consumption of alcohol, prolonged bleeding in the digestive tract, insufficient nutrient absorption in the intestines, hypothyroidism, and malnutrition may also play a part in low ferritin levels. Restless legs syndrome and certain autoimmune conditions have also been found to be associated with deficiency in ferritin levels. Women who suffer from heavy bleeding during menstrual periods are also at greater risk to experiencing low ferritin levels.

Treatment of low ferritin levels

Low ferritin levels can be treated in the following ways:

  • Intake of iron rich foods such as chicken, clams, lean red meat, liver, oysters, turkey, tofu, molasses,figs, iron fortified cereals, raisins, pumpkin seeds, leafy green vegetables, beans, soybeans, chickpeas, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, and broccoli.
  • Over consumption of caffeinated drinks can adversely affect iron absorption. Hence, limit its intake.
  • As vitamin C helps in iron absorption, opt for foods that are also rich in vitamin C.
  • Doctors may also recommend iron supplements if dietary changes do not result in desired changes in low ferritin levels.
  • Treatment of underlying conditions will also help correct low ferritin levels.
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