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Iron studies blood test

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Iron studies are blood tests that look at how much iron is in your body.
  • Having either too little or too much iron can cause serious health problems.
  • Your doctor will explain your test results.

Why is there iron in my body?

Iron is an essential part of many cells in your body, including your blood and muscle cells.

In particular, iron is a vital part of haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen around your body.

When you don't have enough iron in your body, you may have difficulty making new blood cells. New blood cells are needed to replace blood that you lose from:

This can lead to a condition called anaemia. Anaemia can be detected by a full blood count.

Having too much iron in your body can cause damage to your: heart, liver, pancreas and joints.

What is being tested?

There are a few different blood tests that look at the amount of iron in your body.

  • A serum iron test — measures the iron in your blood.
  • A ferritin test — measures the amount of stored iron in your body.
  • A transferrin test — measures how well your body transports iron in your blood.
  • A total iron-binding capacity test (TIBC) — is another way to measure how well your body transports iron.
  • Transferrin saturation — is a calculation to find the percentage of your transferrin that is saturated with iron.

Your doctor might ask for all of these tests, or for just 1 or 2 of them. Sometimes the results from different tests can help your doctor find the cause of an abnormal result.

Why do I need an iron studies test?

You might need an iron test if you have had a full blood count and it has shown that you have anaemia or another problem with your red blood cells.

You might also need an iron test if your doctor thinks you have too much iron in your body. The most common cause of too much iron is haemochromatosis, which is an inherited condition.

How do I prepare for the test?

What you need to do before your test will depend on the blood test you're having.

For some iron tests, you may need to fast for 12 hours. In this case you can only drink water. This is because other foods and drinks can affect your results.

It's best to check with your doctor or the pathology collection centre. Ask them if there is anything you need to do before having your blood test.

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How will my blood be taken?

Your blood sample will be taken from a vein in your arm.

What do my iron studies results mean?

Iron studies are not simple to understand. Your doctor will look at your results in the context of your general health. Your test results can help your doctor to understand your health issues.

You will need to discuss the results with your doctor, what they mean, and what comes next.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Resources and support

For more information you can read healthdirect's Guide to blood testing.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.'

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2023

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