Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin and several other important proteins (enzymes). Iron deficiency is caused by dietary deficiency, intestinal malabsorption or digestive bleeding losses and results in a drop in hemoglobin level, which often causes anemia (chronic fatigue, weakness, paleness, dizziness). In rare situations, there can be an excess of iron that can have a tendency to be deposited in tissue (hemochromatosis). The test measures the level of iron that is not in the red blood cells’ hemoglobin (serum iron). Other tests are required to interpret the results: transferrin saturation level (protein that transports iron in the serum) or ferritin level (protein that contains iron stored in the body). Some parameters of the complete blood count are also important (hemoglobin, hematocrit, etc.).
Low iron levels are observed in hypoferric anemia (iron deficiency anemia) and in several chronic diseases. Serum iron levels can temporarily decrease during even minor inflammatory episodes. The levels quickly return to normal when the inflammation is treated. The ferritin level is a more reliable marker of iron deficiencies.
Elevated iron levels are observed in people suffering from hemochromatosis (a hereditary disease) or hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells) and in iron poisoning.