If you’ve been experiencing symptoms that may indicate anemia, then your doctor may run a series of appropriate tests to make a definitive diagnosis. Let’s get right to it and take a look at what you can expect when being tested for ID and IDA.
One of the first things that your doctor will do is a physical exam, looking for signs of iron deficiency, such as:
- Check your skin for paleness;
- Check your fingernails – thin, fragile, pale, ridged, concave or spoon shaped;
- Check your tongue, cheeks, gums, lips, and the roof and floor of your mouth for inflammation;
- Listen to your heart to check for abnormalities such as an irregular or rapid heartbeat;
- Listen to your lungs to check for rapid or uneven breathing;
- Check the size of your spleen and liver by feeling your abdomen.
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also do a pelvic or rectal exam to check for bleeding.
As far as diagnostic testing goes, your doctor will order a complete blood count (CBC) before any other testing to measure different elements of your blood. They’ll be looking at the size and colour of your red blood cells, as well as the amount. This is because red blood cells will appear widely different in size, shape and colour if you have iron deficiency anemia. A CBC also checks the following:
- Hemoglobin – This iron-containing protein carries oxygen throughout the body and gives the blood cell its red colour. Hemoglobin levels of 12 – 17 g/dl for females and 13 – 18 g/dl for males is considered normal;
- Hematocrit B – Given as a percentage, this is a measure of the amount of space (volume) red blood cells occupy in the blood. For example, a hematocrit of 40 means that 40% of the blood volume is red blood cells. Hematocrit levels of 37% – 51% for females and 43% – 52% for males is considered normal.
In addition to CBC, your doctor may also check the following:
- Ferritin – Indicates the amount of iron stored in your body (iron reserve);
- Serum Iron – Measures the amount of circulating iron in your blood;
- Total Iron-Binding Capacity (TIBC) – Measures iron levels in your blood, along with the ability of proteins (primarily transferrin) to transport iron;
- Transferrin Saturation – Indicates your body’s ability to bind iron and transport it to various sites where it is needed, such as the bone marrow or liver. In a healthy patient, about 20% – 40% of available transferring sites are used to transport iron.
People often discover that they are anemic through routine screening at the doctor’s office or after they begin to experience symptoms of anemia. Iron deficiency is progressive; appropriate testing will help your doctor confirm whether or not you have ID or IDA and hopefully identify the underlying cause.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs