The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is a common blood test that reveals inflammation in the body. The test measures how quickly red blood cells sink to the bottom of a test tube of blood. Inflammation causes higher amounts of protein in the blood, causing clumping of red blood cells. These clumps are heavier than regular blood cells, and therefore settle to the bottom of the test tube at a faster rate in people afflicted with inflammatory diseases.
Although the ESR test does not specify the cause of the inflammatory response, it nevertheless relates the need for further testing to determine the cause of inflammation.
The normal reference range for ESR is 1-13 mm/hr (millimeters per hour) for males and 1-20 mm/hr for females. The normal range changes with age, as is expected since inflammatory processes increase with aging. However, if one’s ESR level falls outside of the normal range, the possibility of disease requires further investigation.
Lower-than-normal ESR levels may indicate conditions such as leukemia; congestive heart failure; or an increase in blood thickness, known as hyperviscosity; among other conditions.
Elevated ESR levels may indicate any of a number of inflammatory diseases, including, rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, thyroid disease, kidney disease, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma.
While ESR levels outside of the normal range do not always indicate serious illness, an out-of-range result will alert your doctor to check for underlying conditions. The earlier the diagnosis of any condition, the greater the likelihood of a good outcome.
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