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About Iron Deficiency

Testing for Iron Deficiency


Talk to your doctor about iron testing.

If you think you aren’t getting enough iron through your food and you can just pop a pill, think again.


It’s always a good idea to talk to your physician first, and actually get tested, prior to taking an iron supplement (to make sure what ails you is iron deficiency and not something else).

Your physician will likely order tests that will assess both hemoglobin and hemotocrit and provide a closer look at your red blood cells. In addition, your doctor may order additional iron tests.

Iron Deficiency Test



Normal Range **


The protein in RBCs that carries oxygen.

F: 12.1 - 15.1 gm/dL
M: 13.8 - 17.2 gm/dL


The percentage of RBCs found in a blood sample. (this depends on the total number of RBCs and size of the RBCs)

F: 36.1 - 44.3%
M: 40.7 - 50.3%

Serum Iron

The amount of iron in your blood. This value may be normal even if your iron stores are low.

60 - 170 mcg/dL

Serum ferritin

Measures your iron stores. When your ferritin is low, you are very iron deficient.

F: 12 - 150 ng/mL
M: 15 - 200 ng/mL


Transferrin is a protein that carries iron in your blood. With anemia, you’ll have a high level of transferrin that is not carrying iron.

200 - 400 mg/dL


Measures how much transferrin in the blood is not carrying iron.

240 - 450 mcg/dL

**Normal range is approximate and may vary by lab

***total iron binding capacity


In iron deficiency anemia:

  • Hemoglobin levels are low.
  • Hematocrit results are low.
  • Serum Iron levels are low.
  • Serum ferritin levels are low.
  • Transferrin levels are high.
  • TIBC results are high.


Always get tested to be sure you are deficient prior to taking an iron supplement. Iron is not excreted from the body but instead stored in body tissues and organs when you have plenty of iron already. Therefore, excess iron can be toxic.


It isn’t worth it to feel cold and tired all the time. So if you think you need more iron, get tested. And if your doctor prescribes iron, ask about heme iron supplements. You’ll need less to boost your stores, which will also decrease the likelihood of that all too common complaint with iron supplements: constipation. And, you won’t have to worry about when you take your supplement. After all, if it isn’t easy and makes you feel worse (by being constipated), you are less likely to continue taking it. And then you are right back where you started!




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  2. Micronutrient deficiencies. Iron deficiency anaemia. World Health Organization.
  3. Iron Deficiency Anemia. National Anemia Action Council.
  4. Iron Deficiency. MMWR Weekly. CDC. 2002;51(40):897-899.
  5. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.
  6. Monson ER. Iron and absorption: dietary factors which impact iron bioavailability. J Am Dietet Assoc. 1988;88:786-90.
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  8. Pronsky ZM. Food Medication Interactions, 10th edition 1997.
  9. Hemoglobin. Medline Plus.
  10. Hematocrit. Medline Plus.