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9 Conditions Associated with High Ferritin

Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Biljana Novkovic, PhD | Last updated:

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Blood cells

Ferritin is an iron-storing protein. Its levels usually go up or down depending on how much iron is in the body. However, ferritin also increases with inflammation, irrespective of iron levels. In this article, we will go over 9 conditions associated with high ferritin levels.

What is Ferritin?

Iron has many important roles in our bodies. For example, it’s critical for making red blood cells and it’s needed for muscle and heart cells to produce energy. However, iron by itself can be toxic, primarily because it produces free radicals that cause damage to cells and tissues. For this reason, the body uses special proteins like ferritin to safely store and transport iron to where it is needed [1].

Blood ferritin is an indirect indicator of the total amount of iron stored in the body. Low ferritin levels signal that the body’s iron stores are low. Higher levels, on the other hand, may indicate that you have a condition that causes the body to store too much iron [2].

However, ferritin also plays a role in the immune response, and increases in conditions such as chronic inflammation, infections, and cancer, irrespective of iron levels [2].

Ferritin is normally high at birth. Ferritin levels rise during the first two months of age and then fall until the end of the first year of life, i.e. later infancy. At about one year of age, ferritin levels begin to rise again [3].

Normal ferritin blood levels:

  • Men: 30 – 400 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL)
  • Women: 15 – 150 ng/mL
  • Children (6 months to 15 years): 7 – 140 ng/mL
  • Infants (1-5 months): 50 – 200 ng/mL

However, these values vary across laboratories, due to differences in equipment, techniques, and chemicals used.

Summary of Diseases Associated With Higher Ferritin

  • Inflammatory conditions [2]
  • Chronic kidney disease [2]
  • Rheumatoid arthritis [2]
  • Autoimmune disorders [2]
  • Acute infections [2]
  • Cancer [2]
  • Anemia of Chronic Disease [4]
  • Type 2 diabetes [5]
  • Metabolic syndrome [6]
  • Atherosclerosis [7]
  • Fatty liver disease patients [7]
  • Anorexia [8]
  • Graves’ disease [9]
  • Arrhythmias [10]
  • Chronic Hepatitis C infection [2]
  • Hemochromatosis [11]
  • Hemophagocytic syndrome [1]
  • Still’s disease [2]
  • Sideroblastic anemia [1]

Conditions Associated With High Ferritin Levels

Conditions listed below have been associated with higher ferritin levels. Some of these associations are causal while others are not. The list below is by no means exhaustive.

If your ferritin is high it doesn’t mean you have any of the below-listed conditions! Work with your doctor or another health care professional to get an accurate diagnosis.

Can Increase Ferritin:

1) Chronic Disease and Inflammation

Ferritin is an acute phase reactant and a marker of acute and chronic inflammation. It is elevated in a wide range of inflammatory conditions, including chronic kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders, acute infections, and cancer [1, 2].

Anemia of chronic disease is the most frequent anemia in hospitalized patients. It develops in people suffering from diseases in which there is chronic activation of cell-mediated immunity, such as chronic infections, immune-mediated inflammatory disorders, or malignancy. It’s characterized by the presence of low iron, but increased blood levels of ferritin [4].

The elevated ferritin in these states reflects increased total body iron stores, but paradoxically, these stores are sequestered and not available for red blood cell production. This contributes to the development of anemia [2].

Ferritin is elevated in many types of cancer, primarily due to inflammation [2]. However, some cancers can also be associated with low levels of ferritin, such as colon cancer [12].

2) Grave’s disease/Hyperthyroidism

Studies have shown that ferritin is higher in people with Graves’ disease, and that it can decrease back to normal when normal thyroid function is achieved by antithyroid drug therapy [9].

3) Hemochromatosis

Genetic mutations in the hemochromatosis gene (HFE) are the most common genetic cause of elevated ferritin levels and are usually seen in people with northern European ancestry [11, 2].

4) Sideroblastic Anemia

Iron overload and elevated ferritin levels are common in sideroblastic anemia, a disorder in which bone marrow fails to produce healthy red blood cells [1].

Can Arise Due to Iron Overload/High Ferritin:

5) Heart Arrhythmias

Studies suggest that high ferritin and iron can contribute to abnormal heart electrical activity (arrhythmia) in a variety of medical conditions [10].

Associated with High Ferritin:

6) Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together and increase one’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These conditions include elevated blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Elevated ferritin has been associated with all components of metabolic syndrome individually. In addition, studies have shown that ferritin increases with the number of metabolic syndrome components a person has [13, 6].

7) Diabetes

In a study of 9.5k US adults, those with higher ferritin levels were more likely to also have diabetes [14].

In a study of 524 type 2 diabetics, high ferritin was associated with higher fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1C), and CRP [15].

8) Hardening of the Arteries (Atherosclerosis)

Some scientists are of the opinion that high ferritin is a strong risk factor for the progression of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) [7].

In a study of 196 apparently healthy men and women, higher ferritin was linked with artery stiffness among women [16].

Ferritin was also associated with clogged arteries in 506 people with fatty liver disease [7].

9) Liver Disease

Elevated ferritin and mildly increased iron stores are frequently observed in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), where an increase in ferritin can reflect oxidative stress, inflammation, and liver damage [7].

In a study of 2410 initially healthy Korean men, those with higher ferritin levels were more likely to develop fatty liver in the future [17].

Higher ferritin was associated with more severe liver damage in a study of people with chronic hepatitis C infection [2].

About the Author

Biljana Novkovic

Biljana Novkovic

PhD
Biljana received her PhD from Hokkaido University.
Before joining SelfHacked, she was a research scientist with extensive field and laboratory experience. She spent 4 years reviewing the scientific literature on supplements, lab tests and other areas of health sciences. She is passionate about releasing the most accurate science and health information available on topics, and she's meticulous when writing and reviewing articles to make sure the science is sound. She believes that SelfHacked has the best science that is also layperson-friendly on the web.

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