Iron Studies

What are iron studies?

Iron studies are a set of laboratory tests that measure various parameters related to iron levels in the body. These tests provide information about the amount of iron in the blood, iron storage capacity, and the body’s ability to transport and utilize iron.

Iron studies are commonly performed to evaluate and monitor iron deficiency or overload conditions.

Other names for these tests are Fe tests and Iron indices.

A laboratory technician will locate a vein in the arm, clean the site, and insert a small needle to draw blood into a vial. The process typically takes a few minutes. The blood sample will be sent to a lab for analysis, and the results may be available within a day. The patient is asked to fast for eight to 12 hours before the blood sample collection.

What are various types of iron tests?

  • Serum Iron: This test measures the amount of iron in the blood. It helps determine if iron levels are within the normal range.
  • Total Iron-Binding Capacity (TIBC): The test measures the amount of transferrin, a protein responsible for transporting iron in the blood. This test provides information about the amount of free transferrin available to bind and carry iron throughout the body. When TIBC levels are elevated, more transferrin is free, suggesting lower iron levels in the blood.
  • Transferrin saturation: It measures the percentage of transferrin that is attached to iron.
  • Serum Ferritin: Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in the body. Measuring serum ferritin levels helps assess iron stores and detect iron deficiency or iron overload.

What are these tests used for?

Iron tests are commonly performed to

  • Determine if iron levels are too low, indicating anaemia.
  • Diagnose different types of anaemia.
  • Evaluate if iron levels are too high, which may indicate hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis is a rare genetic disorder characterized by excessive iron accumulation in the body.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of treatments for both iron deficiency and iron overload.

Serum iron tests are often ordered as a follow-up if a complete blood count (CBC) report shows low haemoglobin and haematocrit levels and smaller and paler red blood cells suggesting iron deficiency anaemia. These tests can help diagnose iron deficiency even before clinical symptoms develop. Symptoms of anaemia may include

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Pallor

On the other hand, serum iron tests are also used to investigate iron overload. Symptoms of iron overload vary but may include joint pain, fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, loss of sex drive, and organ damage in the heart and liver.

Periodic iron tests are conducted during the treatment of iron deficiency or overload to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

Normal serum iron test results

The results can vary over time depending on a person’s overall health. Defined normal values tend to vary from one lab to another but typically fall within the following range:

  • Iron: 60- 170 mcg/dL for adults
  • Transferrin saturation: 20-50%
  • Total iron binding capacity (TIBC): 240 to 450 mcg/dL
  • Serum ferritin: Male: 30 to 400 ng/mL; females: 12 to 150 ng/mL

It is important to note that these values are provided as general guidelines, and it is always best to consult a doctor or refer to the specific reference ranges provided by the laboratory conducting the iron study for an accurate interpretation of the results.


  1. Iron Tests [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); [updated 2022 Mar 2; cited 2023 Jun 27]. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/iron-tests/
  2. Iron test. Lab Tests Online. Available from: https://www.testing.com/tests/iron/
  3. What is an iron blood test? Available from: https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/iron-blood-test
  4. Serum iron Test. Available from: https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/tests/serum-iron-test#:~:text=Normal%20Results,42.96%20to%2080.55%20micromol%2FL
  5. Ferritin Test: Purpose and Making Sense of Results Available from: https://www.metropolisindia.com/blog/disease/ferritin-test-purpose-and-making-sense-of-results/

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