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An iron test checks the amount of iron in the blood to see how well iron is metabolized in the body. Iron (Fe) is a mineral needed for hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron is also needed for energy, good muscle and organ function.
About 70% of the body's iron is bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells. The rest is bound to other proteins (transferrin in blood or ferritin in bone marrow) or stored in other body tissues. When red blood cells die, their iron is released and carried by transferrin to the bone marrow and to other organs such as the liver and spleen. In the bone marrow, iron is stored and used as needed to make new red blood cells.
The source of all the body's iron is food, such as liver and other meat, eggs, fish, and leafy green vegetables. The body needs more iron at times of growth (such as during adolescence), for pregnancy, during breastfeeding, or at times when there are low levels of iron in the body (such as after bleeding).
Healthy adult men get enough iron from the food they eat. Men have enough reserves of iron in their bodies to last for several years, even if they take in no new iron. Men rarely develop an iron deficiency because of their diets. But women can lose large amounts of iron because of menstrual bleeding, during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding. So women are more likely than men to develop an iron deficiency and may need to take an iron supplement. Iron deficiency in men and in women past menopause is often from abnormal bleeding, often in the gastrointestinal tract, such as from stomach ulcers or colon cancer.
The iron test checks the:
A test for iron is done to:
Iron levels change throughout the day so it is best to do iron tests in the morning, when iron levels are highest.
Check with your doctor if any preparation is needed.
The health professional drawing blood will:
The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.
An iron test checks the amount of iron in the blood to see how well iron is metabolized in the body.
The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.
70–175 micrograms per decilitre (mcg/dL) or 12.5–31.3 micromoles per litre (mcmol/L)
50–150 mcg/dL or 8.9–26.8 mcmol/L
50-120 mcg/dL or 9.0–21.5 mcmol/L
Men and women:
250–450 mcg/dL or 45–76 mcmol/L
The values for serum iron, total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), and transferrin saturation are used to see if a low amount of iron in the body is from iron deficiency anemia or another condition. The values are also used to see whether a high amount of iron is due to hemochromatosis or another condition. Other conditions that affect iron, TIBC, and transferrin saturation levels include:
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
CitationsFischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Adaptation Date: 5/5/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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