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Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen throughout the body. Most of the iron outside of hemoglobin is stored as ferritin, a protein that can be used to screen for iron deficiency. Low iron can cause fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. It also increases your risk of developing anemia, a condition characterized by having too few functional red blood cells. Pregnant women, children, and vegetarians have a higher risk of becoming iron deficient. Having an elevated ferritin level is far less common and may be a symptom of liver disease, hyperthyroidism, or infection.

Low iron levels can be elevated by eating iron-rich foods—animal protein, dark green leafy vegetables, and iron-fortified cereals—and by taking an iron supplement. For excess iron levels, healthcare professionals may recommend dietary changes or iron chelation therapy.


  1. Camaschella C. Iron-deficiency anemia. N Engl J Med 2015;372(19):1832–1843.
Last updated:
August 17, 2021

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