Is a Haptoglobin Test?
A haptoglobin test
measures the amount of haptoglobin in your blood. Haptoglobin is a protein produced by your liver. It binds
with hemoglobin, which is a
protein found in red blood cells. Red blood cells have the important role of transporting
oxygen from the lungs to the heart and the rest of the body. They’re produced
by the bone marrow and are eventually broken down in the liver and spleen.
When red blood cells are destroyed, they release hemoglobin. The
released hemoglobin is called “free hemoglobin.” Haptoglobin attaches to the free
hemoglobin to create a haptoglobin-hemoglobin complex. This complex travels to
the liver, where it’s removed from the body.
Normally, the body maintains the balance between red blood cell
destruction and production. When this process is disrupted, however, red blood
cells may be eliminated at a faster rate than they’re made. This causes
haptoglobin levels to drop, as the protein is being eliminated from the body
faster than the liver can make it.
Increased red blood cell destruction may occur as a result of:
- inherited conditions that cause abnormalities in
the size or shape of red blood cells, such as hereditary spherocytosis
- spleen disorders
- cirrhosis, or severe scarring of the liver
- fibrosis, or scarring of the bone marrow
These conditions can lead to the development of a form of anemia
called hemolytic anemia. Hemolytic
anemia occurs when the bone marrow can’t produce red blood cells as quickly
as they’re being destroyed. The inadequate supply of red blood cells means that
the body may not get enough oxygen.
A haptoglobin test can detect whether you have hemolytic anemia
or another type of anemia. It may also help determine the exact cause of
increased red blood cell destruction.
Is a Haptoglobin Test Performed?
Your doctor may decide to run a haptoglobin test if you’re experiencing
symptoms of hemolytic anemia. These symptoms can include:
- severe fatigue
- pale skin
- cold hands and feet
- jaundice, or
yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- upper abdominal pain
- shortness of breath
- arrhythmia, or an abnormal heartbeat
As noted above, people with hemolytic anemia may experience
abdominal pain and jaundice. Jaundice occurs as a result of high bilirubin
levels. Bilirubin is a
yellow pigment that forms when red blood cells are broken down and eliminated
from the body. When red blood cells are destroyed at an increased rate, it can
lead to a buildup of bilirubin in the blood. This causes the skin or eyes to
appear yellow. Higher-than-normal levels of bilirubin can also result in gallstones, which are hard deposits that form in the
The haptoglobin test can confirm a hemolytic anemia diagnosis and
help determine the underlying cause.
Do I Prepare for a Haptoglobin Test?
A haptoglobin test doesn’t require any special preparation.
However, it’s important to discuss your medical history and medication use with
your doctor so they can interpret your haptoglobin test results more
accurately. The results can be affected by various underlying medical conditions,
such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and chronic liver disease.
They may also be impacted by the use of certain medications, including corticosteroids
and birth control pills.
Is a Haptoglobin Test Performed?
A haptoglobin test involves taking a small sample of blood. It’s
performed at a doctor’s office or a medical laboratory. A doctor or another
healthcare provider will perform the procedure. In most cases, the blood will
be drawn from a vein inside of your elbow. During this test, the following will
- Your doctor will first clean the area with
alcohol or another sterilizing solution.
- They’ll then tie an elastic band around your arm
to make the veins swell with blood. Once they find a vein, they’ll insert a
needle into your vein to draw blood. The blood will be collected in a small
tube or vial attached to the needle.
- After they’ve drawn enough blood, they’ll remove
the needle and cover the puncture site with a bandage to stop any bleeding.
A haptoglobin blood test only takes a few minutes to complete. You
should get your results within a few days.
Do My Haptoglobin Test Results Mean?
A normal haptoglobin level falls between 45 and 165 milligrams of
haptoglobin per deciliter of blood. There can also be minor variations
depending on the hospital or diagnostic facility. If you have a level that’s lower
than 45 milligrams haptoglobin per deciliter of blood, it means that your red
blood cells are being destroyed more quickly than they’re being made. This
usually means that you have hemolytic anemia or some other form of anemia.
Test results can vary depending on the laboratory that analyzed
your blood sample. Your doctor will discuss your individual results with you
and explain what they mean. Depending on the results, more tests may need to be