Is It Possible To Test For Anemia At Home?

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates about three million people in the U.S. have anemia. This condition results from your body having a lower-than-normal count of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood to all the organs and tissues in the body.¹

Various types of anemia exist, with the most common being iron deficiency anemia. While you need adequate iron, too much or too little can significantly affect your well-being. Because of this, ensuring your iron remains at appropriate levels is essential. 

Let’s learn more about iron and see how testing works. 

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Iron: It's in your blood 

Your red blood cells contain a type of protein called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is rich in iron, and it carries much-needed oxygen throughout the body and carbon dioxide back to the lungs. 

Most of the body’s iron is in hemoglobin, while the rest is mainly in the muscle tissues in another protein called myoglobin. The liver, spleen, and bone marrow also store a small amount of iron in the form of ferritin. 


Ferritin is a protein that stores iron in your cells. The levels of serum ferritin can accurately indicate the presence of iron deficiency. 

Serum ferritin levels of less than 30 ng/mL indicate iron deficiency. Levels less than 10 ng/mL indicate the presence of iron deficiency anemia at up to 99% accuracy.²

However, serum ferritin levels may have some limitations in diagnosing iron deficiency in people with health conditions such as: 

  • Chronic heart failure

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

These conditions increase the risk of iron deficiency anemia, but their inflammatory nature tends to increase the level of serum ferritin. However, the body can’t use it properly. 

If you have any of these conditions, serum ferritin levels below 100 ng/mL indicate iron deficiency anemia.³


Because iron can't flow through the blood on its own, it binds with transferrin, a glycoprotein found in the blood plasma. 

Transferrin-bound iron can safely travel in the blood throughout the body to the organs. 

Transferrin saturation percentage is a marker for the iron that’s available for your body to use. Doctors often measure it alongside ferritin levels as it’s more specific. Saturation levels below 20% indicate iron deficiency anemia.

Where can you find iron? 

Food is a vital source of iron, which comes in two forms: Heme and non-heme. Foods like poultry, meat, and seafood contain heme iron. Non-heme iron is in plant-based foods like nuts, legumes, leafy greens, and grains. 

In the U.S., most infant formulas and bread are iron-fortified. 

Your body processes heme iron and non-heme iron differently: It absorbs heme iron better.

A few common sources of heme iron are: 

  • Beef

  • Organ meats, like liver

  • Sardines

  • Tuna

  • Poultry

  • Mussels

  • Clams

Non-heme iron is still an excellent source of the mineral, and you can find it in: 

  • Beans

  • Spinach

  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  • Fortified cereals

  • Enriched bread

While obtaining enough iron is important, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. If the body can't process the iron you consume, you may end up with iron toxicity. 

Iron: Too much or not enough? 

Iron deficiency typically occurs in people with insufficient iron intake, children, and pregnant or menstruating women. It sometimes occurs with a medical condition or excessive bleeding. 

The signs of iron deficiency don't happen overnight. Instead, this deficiency happens in stages. 

Iron deficiency

In mild forms of iron deficiency, you may not experience symptoms. Although iron levels are low, there are still enough healthy red blood cells and hemoglobin carrying oxygen through the body. 

Red blood cell and hemoglobin levels will decline when this develops into iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This causes many symptoms due to the body's attempt to overcompensate for insufficient oxygen.

The most common signs of IDA are: 

  • Weakness

  • Pale skin

  • Hair loss

  • Brittle nails

  • Lightheadedness

  • Confusion

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Cold sensitivity

  • Shortness of breath

  • Increased heart rate

Though rare, people with IDA may also experience a desire to consume dirt, clay, or other non-food items. This is a condition called pica. 

Iron overload 

The absorption of iron occurs within the digestive tract. Your body regulates iron absorption and release through a hormone called hepcidin. 

Some medical conditions can lead to iron overload, such as genetic hemochromatosis. This relatively common condition lowers hepcidin production. 

People with hemochromatosis must follow a low-iron diet and receive treatments to remove excess iron from their blood. People with liver disease may also experience extra iron levels and require treatment.

Symptoms of iron overload include:

  • Feeling physically tired or weak

  • Joint pain

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Abdominal pain

  • Darkening skin tone

Iron toxicity

Iron toxicity occurs when someone ingests too much elemental iron, usually via supplements. 

Iron poisoning from iron supplement overdose is among the most common toxic ingestions, particularly among children. 

Iron toxicity can result in: 

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Damage to the digestive tract

  • Multiple organ failure

  • Death

Iron toxicity is a medical emergency that requires urgent attention. 

If you suspect iron poisoning symptoms, call 911 or contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. 

Signs and symptoms of iron toxicity include: 

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms, like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • Vomiting blood

  • Jaundice

  • Fever

  • Seizures

  • Low blood pressure

  • Shortness of breath

In 2015, data from the Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) National Poison Data System showed 3,211 cases were unintentional ingestion of iron supplements, 1,161 of which required hospital care.⁴

Testing for anemia and iron levels

An iron test measures a variety of substances in your blood. 

Iron tests are valuable for: 

  • Diagnosing different types of anemia

  • Diagnosing conditions that cause changes in iron levels

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of iron treatments

Laboratory tests

Medical professionals use several tests to check iron levels, such as: 

  • Serum iron test, which measures the amount of circulating iron in the blood

  • Transferrin test, which measures the levels of transferrin

  • Total iron-binding capacity (TIBC), which checks iron’s ability to attach to transferrin

  • Ferritin blood test, which measures stored iron levels

Most iron tests require you not to eat or drink for 12 hours before taking the test. The test is usually done in the morning using a blood sample for improved accuracy. 

At-home iron testing kits 

You can purchase testing kits online or at a local pharmacy. These kits include in-depth instructions for obtaining your sample and all the necessary tools. At-home testing kits typically ask customers to send samples to their facility to get results. 

Remember to closely follow all instructions to ensure accuracy. 

How to choose the best at-home iron testing kit

When choosing your at-home iron testing kit, consider these things:

  • Price

  • Type of test

  • Accuracy

  • Home-testing ability 

Only some tests on the market can be performed 100% at home. Most tests need to go to a lab for sample extraction and interpretation. 

What kits can I get?

The Cerascreen Ferritin Test is one of the few tests that does not require a lab visit. However, you must still return the sample for testing using the prepaid envelope. However, this test only measures serum ferritin levels, which isn’t enough to diagnose iron deficiency anemia accurately.

The LetsGetChecked iron test kit is more accurate as it provides a more comprehensive overview. It checks hemoglobin, ferritin, TIBC, and transferrin saturation.

You still need to send back the sample to the lab in a prepaid envelope, and you can get your results on a downloadable app. This thorough testing and convenience come at a higher price than other available home kits. 

LabCorp is another kit that offers a comprehensive anemia test, but it’s more affordable as it requires a lab visit.

How to do the test

Conducting an at-home iron test like the Cerascreen is usually simple. When you receive the test kit, follow its instructions for maximum accuracy. 

You’ll need to use a lancet on your finger, a fine needle that creates a tiny puncture to generate a small blood sample. 

After that, send your sample to the medical lab for analysis and wait for the results.

How to interpret the results

If you have any abnormal levels, the lab will inform you. It’s important to show these results to your physician. They can thoroughly interpret your results, order further tests, determine the underlying cause, and suggest appropriate treatment.

The lowdown 

You can test for iron-deficiency anemia with at-home tests. However, due to user error or sample compromise, at-home tests may not be as accurate as lab-conducted tests. 

Iron-deficiency anemia is only one type of anemia, and iron levels may not accurately indicate other types of anemia. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if an at-home test would be advisable for your symptoms.

  1. Anemia or iron deficiency | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. Iron (2023)

  3. Limitations of serum ferritin in diagnosing iron deficiency in inflammatory conditions (2018)

  4. 2015 annual report of the American association of poison control centers' national poison data system (NPDS): 33rd annual report (2016)

Other references:

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