Iron is an essential mineral in our body for growth and development. Our body uses this iron to make hemoglobin, a protein found in the blood. It carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. Also, the body makes protein like myoglobin, which carries oxygen to the muscles.
The factsheet on iron consumption from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH) explains the significance of iron in several metabolic processes in the body, including red blood cells (RBCs) and hormone production.
So what happens when there is not enough iron in the body? It results in anemia.
In this developing world, anemia is a recognizable health problem left undiagnosed and untreated. Let’s discuss here in this article how to test for anemia at home and other necessary information.
1. What is Anemia?
Anemia is a symptom of a lack of RBCs to carry enough oxygen to the body. The common symptoms of anemia are weakness and tiredness.
It is a common problem that occurs in all age groups and populations. When there is a low RBC count, the hemoglobin levels lower and fail to carry oxygen in the body.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics provide information on anemia and iron deficiency in the United States.
2. Symptoms of Anemia
A person with anemia might experience symptoms that may be mild, moderate, or sometimes severe. He cannot notice the symptoms initially as they start slowly. The anemia symptoms are:
Paleness of Skin, Fingernail Bed, Gums, and Lips
Shortness of Breath
Weakness and Tiredness
Chills and Dizziness
Headache and Fainting
3. Types of Anemia
As seen earlier, anemia symptoms occur due to the destruction of (RBCs), less red blood cell production, or bleeding. The most common types of anemia are:
3.1. Iron Deficiency Anemia –
Iron deficiency is the primary cause of anemia in most people. So, what is iron-deficiency anemia? It is the lack of iron to produce healthy red blood cells.
The iron levels in the blood are low, hemoglobin levels go down, and oxygen-carrying capacity gets reduced.
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that pica is an unusual symptom of iron deficiency anemia. Pica has an eating disorder to eats non-food items like paper, ice, and hair.
3.2. Vitamin Deficiency Anemia –
Vitamin deficiency anemia occurs due to a lack of vitamin B12 or folic acid, where the body cannot absorb vitamin B.
3.3. Aplastic Anemia –
Aplastic anemia occurs when bone marrow fails to produce enough RBCs. Bone marrow is a soft, spongy tissue with many blood vessels. It is also termed alternatively as anemia of bone marrow.
3.4. Hemolytic Anemia –
Hemolytic anemia is an inherited disorder. It occurs when the body destroys red blood cells faster than it can make them.
3.5. Sickle Cell Anemia –
This type of anemia is also called sickle cell disease. It stiffens the blood cells, which creates difficulty in blood flow through the smallest blood vessels.
3.6. Anemia of Chronic Disease –
It has an alternate name, anemia of inflammation, as it occurs in those who suffer from chronic conditions like chronic kidney disease linked with inflammation.
3.7. Beta Thalassemia –
Beta thalassemia are blood disorder that lessens the production of hemoglobin. Low hemoglobin levels reduce the oxygen supply in the body. Thalassemia can result in mild or severe anemia.
4. Anemia Diagnosis
There are several tests to diagnose anemia that require blood samples. Once diagnosed with anemia, a person may require further testing to identify the reason for anemia.
In clinical practice, doctors and healthcare providers check for anemia on a person’s routine physical exam and perform the test. Also, they ask about the health conditions and medical and family history.
Let’s look at some of the usual lab tests for anemia diagnosis.
4.1. Complete Blood Count (CBC) –
This is the standard blood test to detect anemia. This test requires drawing blood from the veins. The test results give the RBC count and hemoglobin levels. A low RBC count is an indication of anemia.
4.2. Mean Corpuscular Volume (MCV) –
The test results provide data on RBCs’ size. Small RBCs indicate iron deficiency anemia. Large RBCs indicate vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency (folate levels).
4.3. Red Cell Distribution Width (RDW) –
The test results give the RBCs equality in size and shape. Lower RDW shows that RBCs are of the same size. Higher RDW indicates a sign of anemia and other nutritional deficiencies.
4.4. Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration (MCHC) –
This test result gives the average hemoglobin concentration in RBCs. Correct MCHC value is usually in the range of 320-360 grams/litre (g/L). A higher or lower value than this range is a sign of anemia.
4.5. Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) –
This blood test checks the stool samples or feces for occult blood. Occult blood checks for microscopic blood in the stools that are invisible to the naked eye.
4.6. Blood Smear –
A blood smear is a blood sample collected and examined under a microscope. The test will give results on the description of RBCs and may identify sickle cell disease or hemolytic anemia.
4.7. Liver Function Tests (LFTs) –
LFTs check for liver failure or liver disease, which can also lead to anemia. It usually occurs due to excess consumption of alcohol.
5. How to Test for Anemia at Home?
As discussed above, iron is a mineral that plays a fundamental role in our bodies. If the body has too much iron or too little, it will have unpleasant health symptoms.
Iron tests are a component of blood tests that determine iron levels to indicate iron deficiency or iron overload. The iron test results provide if a person has low, normal, or high iron levels in the blood sample.
The iron tests are as follows:
5.1. Transferrin Test –
This test measures protein transferrin, which carries iron throughout the body.
5.2. Ferritin Test –
This test measures how much iron the body stores. It is a follow-up by doctors if initial blood testing shows abnormal results. Abnormally high or low ferritin levels result in unpleasant health symptoms.
5.3. Serum Iron Test –
The serum iron test measures the iron levels in the blood. Abnormally low or high iron levels indicate an underlying disease, a medical condition, or too much iron consumption.
5.4. Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) Test –
The TIBC test measures how well the mineral iron binds to transferrin protein and other proteins in the body.
Testing for anemia is a vital part of a person’s medical care and treating it at the earliest. At-home tests are the best way for a person to check iron levels without the need for a doctor’s appointment.
Today various companies recommend and provide at-home testing kits to perform anemia tests at home. The advantages of these tests are:
Convenience – It is convenient to perform tests at home without rushing to the doctor.
Accuracy – It provides accredited testing that ensures reliable and accurate results.
Cost – It allows the use of discounts, health savings (HSA), and flexible spending account (FSA) payments.
Privacy – It offers privacy protection.
Medical Review – The tests provide a medical review or follow-up advice after getting the results.
6. Best At-Home Iron Tests
6.1. Cerascreen Ferritin Test
It is the best at-home ferritin test kit that measures ferritin levels. This test requires collecting a blood sample with a finger prick and sending it for testing to the lab using a prepaid envelope.
Then you will receive the report that states the iron recommendations. A person can also check his test results via the Cerascreen website or application. He gets same-day shipping if ordered before 2 p.m. EST, while the actual delivery duration is between 4 and 6 days.
6.2. LetsGetChecked Iron Test
It is the best and most comprehensive at-home iron test kit. It checks for iron, TIBC, ferritin, and transferrin saturation.
As per the Cerascreen test, a person must collect blood via a finger prick and send the sample to the lab using a prepaid envelope.
The results are available online through a secure app within 2-5 days. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments have approved these tests.
6.3. Lab. Me Advanced Ferritin Test
It is the best test for a subscription and saving money on the tests. This test also uses the finger prick method to collect and send the blood sample to the lab through a prepaid envelope.
Lab. Me company provides an instructional video on how to take a sample. The person receives the results with personalized reports, test recommendations, and other lifestyle advice in 48 hours. They have College of American Pathologists (CAP)-accredited labs to process the samples.
6.4. My LAB Box Rapid Anemia Test
This test uses blood samples to measure hemoglobin and RBC count. It also uses the finger prick method to collect the test sample without needing to send it to a lab. The results are available online quickly in 2 minutes.
AnemiaScreen is one best home test kits for iron deficiency anemia. It checks for iron levels and ferritin in the body.
The test kit has a step-by-step instructions sheet for taking the sample using a finger prick method with a provided sterile lancet in the test kit. Then transfer the blood sample to the AnemiaScreen test cassette with a provided micropipette. Then add six drops of buffer solution to it, and later the result is available in 10 minutes. There is an alcohol swab to sterilize the finger.
6.6. Smartphone App by Georgia Tech
Biomedical engineers from Georgia Tech have developed a non-invasive technique to detect anemia via a smartphone app. The app uses photos of fingernails to look at hemoglobin levels without blood draws.
7. Interpretation of Test Results from At-Home Iron Test
7.1. Serum Iron Tests
The serum iron range is between 60 to 70 iron micrograms per deciliter of blood (mcg/dL). If the number is higher, it is an iron overload. It may result in diabetes, liver damage, and heart failure. Alternatively, a low result indicates iron deficiency.
7.2. Total Iron Binding Capacity Tests (TIBC)
The typical TIBC range is between 250 and 450 mcg/dL.
A higher TIBC value than 450 mcg/dL indicates low iron. If the TIBC value is less than 250 mcg/dL, there is too much iron in the blood. Less TIBC value may be due to hemolytic anemia or other underlying medical conditions.
7.3. Ferritin Tests
The standard ferritin range for men lies between 24 to 336 micrograms per litre (mcg/L). For women, it lies between 11 to 307 micrograms per litre (mcg/L).
Low ferritin levels may indicate iron deficiency.
8. Doctor Consultation
Upon receiving the results from your test, one should speak with a doctor or healthcare professional. They will assist in interpreting the data and recommend other tests or treatment options. The person must contact a doctor if he faces prolonged fatigue or worrying symptoms of anemia.
9. Anemia Treatment
How to test for anemia at home and treat anemia? Treating, managing, and recovering from anemia depends on the underlying diagnosis.
An iron-rich diet consisting of green leafy vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, beans, and sweet potatoes, brings the hemoglobin in the blood to the optimum level to treat iron deficiency. Doctors advise iron pills or iron supplements for iron deficiency.
Iron therapy is also the best method to infuse iron through veins when iron levels are low. Medications or drugs stimulate the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
So, how to test for anemia at home? Coping with anemia can be tricky, with weakness, fatigue, and tiredness. It makes you frustrated, feel dull, and tired the entire day. If left untreated, it may result in depression and other complications.
While you start observing symptoms, it is essential to do a test for anemia at home and regular health check-ups with a doctor.