What is an ESR test?
An erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is sometimes called a sedimentation rate test or sed rate test. This blood test doesn’t diagnose one specific condition. Instead, it helps your doctor determine whether you’re experiencing inflammation.
The doctor will look at ESR results along with other information or test results to help figure out a diagnosis. The tests refer will depend on your symptoms. The ESR test can also be used to monitor inflammatory diseases.
Why doctors refer an ESR test?
When you’re experiencing inflammation, your red blood cells (RBCs) cling together, forming clumps. This clumping affects the rate at which RBCs sink in a tube of blood.
The test lets your doctor see how much clumping is occurring. The faster the cells sink to the bottom of a test tube, the more likely it is that inflammation is present.
The test can identify and measure inflammation in your body. However, it doesn’t help pinpoint the cause of inflammation. That’s why the ESR test is rarely performed alone. Instead, your doctor will combine it with other tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
The ESR test can be used to help your doctor diagnose conditions that cause inflammation, such as:
The ESR test can help your doctor monitor inflammatory conditions, such as:
Your doctor might also order this test if you have:
- some types of arthritis
- certain muscle problems, such as polymyalgia rheumatica
Symptoms And Signs to do an ESR test
You might need an ESR test if you experience symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These symptoms can include:
- joint pain or stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes in the morning
- headaches, particularly with associated pain in the shoulders
- abnormal weight loss
- pain in the shoulders, neck, or pelvis
- digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, fever, blood in your stool, or unusual abdominal pain
Medications and drugs which affect ESR test results
Medications and drugs that can cause abnormally high test results include:
- androgens, such as testosterone
- oral contraceptives
- dextran, which is used to treat a decrease in blood plasma
- methyldopa, which is used for hypertension
- methadone (Methadose, Dolophine), a pain reliever
Medications and drugs that can cause abnormally low test results include:
- aspirin (Bufferin) or other salicylates, when taken in high doses
- prednisone (Rayos, Prednisone Intensol)
- drugs used to treat seizures, such as valproic acid (Depakene), divalproex sodium(Depakote), and phenytoin (Dilantin)
- phenothiazines, which are antipsychotic drugs
Types of ESR tests
Your pathology lab will use one of two methods to measure your erythrocyte sedimentation rate.
In this method, your doctor will draw your blood into a Westergren-Katz tube until the blood level reaches 200 millimeters (mm).
The tube will be stored vertically and sit at room temperature for an hour.
Your doctor will measure the distance between the top of the blood mixture and the top of the sedimentation of RBCs.
The Wintrobe method is similar to the Westergren method, except the tube used is 100 mm long and thinner.
An advantage of this method is that it’s less sensitive than the Westergren method, so less blood is used.
Normal ESR test values
ESR test results are measured in millimeters per hour (mm/hr).
The following are considered normal ESR test results:
- Women under age 50 should have an ESR under 20 mm/hr.
- Men under age 50 should have an ESR under 9 mm/hr.
- Children should have an ESR between 0 and 10 mm/hr.
The higher the number, the higher the level of inflammation.
This test isn’t always reliable or meaningful. Many factors can alter your results, such as:
- advanced age
- medication use
Some causes of abnormal ESR test results are more serious than others, but many aren’t a huge concern. It’s important not to worry too much if your ESR test results are abnormal. Instead, consult with your doctor to find out what’s causing your symptoms. They’ll usually order follow-up tests if your ESR results are too high or low.
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Causes of high ESR test results
There are multiple causes of a high ESR test result. Some common conditions associated with high rates include:
- advanced age
- high cholesterol
- kidney disease
- thyroid disease
- certain types of cancer, including lymphoma and multiple myeloma
- certain types of arthritis, including RA
- Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a rare cancer
- temporal arteritis, a condition in which your cranial arteries become inflamed or damaged
- polymyalgia rheumatica, which causes muscle pain
- hyperfibrinogenemia, or too much of the protein fibrinogen in your blood
- allergic or necrotizing vasculitis
- bone infection
- heart infections such as myocarditis (affects heart muscle), pericarditis (affects tissue around the heart, or the pericardium) and endocarditis (affects the lining of the heart, which can include the heart valves)
- rheumatic fever
- skin infection
- systemic infection
- tuberculosis (TB)
Causes of low ESR test results
A low ESR test result may be due to:
- congestive heart failure (CHF)
- chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
- hypofibrinogenemia, or too little fibrinogen in the blood
- low plasma protein
- leukocytosis, or a high white blood cell (WBC) count
- polycythemia vera, a bone marrow disorder that leads to the production of excess RBCs
- sickle cell anemia, a genetic disease affecting the RBCs
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