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Iron Panel Tests

Last updated May 4, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

The Iron Panel Tests are a group of blood tests that assesses various characteristics of iron in blood. The panel of tests is made up of the following individual blood tests: Serum iron test, Total iron binding capacity (TIBC) test, Unsaturated iron binding capacity (UIBC) test, Transferrin saturation test, and Serum ferritin test. Green leafy vegetables are rich source of fibre and iron.


What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Fe Blood Tests
  • Iron Indices Blood Tests
  • Iron Status Blood Tests

What is Iron Panel Tests? (Background Information)

  • Ionic iron, Fe2+, is an essential element needed for proper red blood cell (RBC) function. RBCs transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body
  • Freely dissolved Fe2+ is very toxic; no Fe2+ floats around in blood. Instead, iron is bound by proteins, such as ferritin, transferrin, and hemoglobin
  • Ferritin is found inside cells and provides in-cell storage of iron. Transferrin migrates through the blood and transports iron from one place to another
  • Unlike ferritin and transferrin, hemoglobin (Hb) is more than a storage or carrier for iron. Hb is the oxygen-carrying protein comprising 96% of the dry weight of red blood cells. Iron is at the center of Hb function
  • Iron provides structural support to hemoglobin. More importantly, however, it facilitates the change in structure that accompanies binding of oxygen by hemoglobin. This structural change allows further binding of oxygen to occur more easily, a trait termed cooperativity
  • The cooperativity allowed by iron in Hb is important to RBCs’ ability to oxygenate tissues, because it allows for small changes in oxygen levels to have a large effect on RBCs’ binding effectiveness. In other words, it makes the process more like an on/off switch and less like a dim switch
  • The Iron Panel Tests are a group of blood tests that assesses various characteristics of iron in blood. The panel of tests is made up of the following individual blood tests:
    • Serum iron test - to measures levels of dissolved Fe2+ in blood plasma
    • Total iron binding capacity (TIBC) test - to measure levels of transferrin bound with iron
    • Unsaturated iron binding capacity (UIBC) test - to measure levels of transferrin that has not bound iron
    • Transferrin saturation test - to measure the percentage of transferrin bound to iron
    • Serum ferritin test - to measure the amount of ferritin in blood stream, which is directly linked to the amount of iron in storage

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Iron Panel Tests?

Following are the clinical indications for performing Iron Panel Tests:

  • Testing for anemia, which is marked by:
    • Fatigue
    • Pale skin
    • Dizziness
    • Shortness of breath
  • Testing for iron toxicity, which is marked by:
    • Heart abnormalities
    • Joint pain
    • Loss of libido
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Abdominal pain

How is the Specimen Collected for Iron Panel Tests?

Following is the specimen collection process for Iron Panel Tests:

Sample required: Blood

Process: Insertion of a needle into an arm vein.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test.

What is the Significance of the Iron Panel Test Result?

The significances of Iron Panel Tests are explained:

Elevated serum iron may indicate:

  • Iron toxicity
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Sideroblastic anemia
  • Hemochromatosis

Decreased serum iron may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency in diet
  • Inability to absorb iron
  • Chronic infection or illness

Elevated total iron binding capacity (TIBC) may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency in diet
  • Inability to absorb iron

Decreased total iron binding capacity (TIBC) may indicate:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Chronic infection or illness

Elevated unsaturated iron binding capacity (UIBC) may indicate:

  • Iron deficiency in the diet
  • Inability to absorb iron

Decreased unsaturated iron binding capacity (UIBC) may indicate:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Chronic infection or illness
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Sideroblastic anemia
  • Iron toxicity

Elevated transferrin saturation may indicate:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Sideroblastic anemia
  • Iron toxicity

Decreased transferrin saturation may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency in diet
  • Inability to absorb iron
  • Chronic infection or illness

Elevated serum ferritin levels may indicate:

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Chronic infection or disease
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Sideroblastic anemia

Decreased serum ferritin levels may indicate:

  • Iron-deficiency in diet
  • Inability to absorb iron

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario.

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Only about 10% of dietary iron is actually absorbed in the body
  • Due to the body’s ability to store iron, supplementation with iron may result in iron overload and toxicity
  • Foods that are rich in iron include: Red meats, egg yolks, liver, and dark green vegetables

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis.

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: June 9, 2014
Last updated: May 4, 2018