What Are the Dangers of Low Ferritin?

blood samples
Low ferritin levels correlate with low iron levels in the blood. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

Ferritin, a protein in the body, stores iron and releases it when needed, acting as a mediator and a transporter for iron. The amount of ferritin in the body is directly related to the amount of iron in the body. Low ferritin levels caused by poor iron absorption or chronic or acute bleeding can lead to potentially serious health complications.

Low Oxygen Levels

When you have low ferritin levels, you will also have low iron levels. Iron carries oxygen via the red blood cells. When iron levels drop, less oxygen travels through the body. Initially, you will experience shortness of breath, perspiration and fatigue. Prolonged oxygen deprivation results in difficulty catching your breath and fainting. The skin becomes pale and the heart and lungs will be affected. This can be a life-threatening event.

Anemia

The part of the red blood cell that includes oxygen and iron is called hemoglobin. When you have low ferritin and iron levels, your hemoglobin level drops as well. The shape, size and volume of a red blood cell changes, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. This morphology of red blood cells can be identified with a lab test. Symptoms of anemia include pale skin, pale nails, enlarged lymph nodes and spleen.

Skeletal Muscle Fatigue

Much like hemoglobin, myoglobin relies on iron and ferritin for proper function. When skeletal muscles are damaged in injury or exercise, myoglobin is released into the bloodstream and travels to the muscle site for repair. Myoglobin carries the needed oxygen and nutrients. However, if myoglobin levels are low because of low ferritin, muscle repair will be delayed. Symptoms include increased muscle pain for a longer duration. Increased pain elevates the blood pressure and heart rate.

Irregular Heartbeat

Low ferritin levels can cause an irregular heartbeat. The heart muscle is fueled by both hemoglobin and myoglobin. This compounded condition results in inadequate heart beats and poor quality heart contractions. The heart normally pumps oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. The body as a whole will be compromised. Some people can feel an irregular heartbeat as skipped beats. It can be associated with faintness and chest pain. Over time, an irregular heartbeat can put stress on the heart.

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