Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test is a blood test used by the doctors to identify if inflammation is occurring in your body as well as an inflammatory disease. The ESR results, together with other test results and information, can come up with a diagnosis.
The ESR test has positive point and negative. For the positive one, doctors use this method to identify the amount of blood clumping in your system.
The red blood cells (RBCs) in your body cling when you experienced inflammations. In other words, they form clumps which affect RBCs sinking rate in a tube of blood. If the cells sink to the bottom of the tube faster than normal, it could mean the presence of inflammation.
But though the ESR test can determine and measure your body’s inflammation, it cannot direct the cause of it. Because of that, doctors do not use the test alone but uses other methods together with it to identify the source of the symptoms.
If the cause of your inflammation is cancer, infections, or autoimmune diseases, your doctor can fully rely on an ESR test alone. The test is also reliable when it comes to monitoring inflammation due to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The test is also effective in detecting other types of arthritis as well as certain muscle condition such as polymyalgia rheumatica.
Different Types of ESR Tests
An ESR test has two kinds, and your doctor may use either of it.
- Westergren Method – using a Westergren-Katz, your doctor will extract blood up to 200 millimeters. Then he will store it vertically for an hour inside room temperature. Lastly, the distance between the top of the RBCs sedimentation and the top of the blood mixture will be measured by your doctor.
- Wintrobe Method – this method is almost the same with Westergren method, however, the amount of blood that will be extracted from you is up 100 millimeters only instead of 200. The method is considered less sensitive, thus, much lesser blood is needed for the procedure.
What are the Signs For You to Take an ESR Test?
Experiencing symptoms of arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can point you to undergo an ESR test. Some of the symptoms of the mentioned diseases are:
- Abnormal weight loss
- Headaches that are usually partnered with shoulder pains
- Symptoms in the digestive tract including fever, blood in the stool, diarrhea, and uncommon abdominal pain
- Joint pain or stiffness that usually occurs for about 30 minutes every morning
- Pain occurring in the pelvis, neck, and shoulders
How is the ESR Test Performed?
Being knowledgeable prior to the test is much better, though health professionals will surely provide you with a briefing before proceeding the test.
You will be required to prepare for the test.
If you are taking any medications, your doctors must need to know about it. Your doctor might temporarily stop you from taking the medication as part of the preparation for the ESR test. ESR test results can be affected by a lot of medication. Thus, this is just a precaution. Drugs and medications like estrogens, methyldopa, heroin, androgens, etc. usually makes the test results high.
On the other hand, drugs and medications such as prednisone, aspirin, phenothiazines, cortisone, and the like, usually make the results low.
During the Test
The test is very quick and simple. It involves getting a blood sample from you which will not last for more than 3 minutes.
- The skin covering your vein will be first cleaned.
- The health care provider will insert a needle to the cleaned skin unto the vein to draw blood.
- Once the blood is collected, the needle will be removed and the puncture site will be covered so bleeding will not persist.
The collected blood is placed in a tube. Your doctor will let it sit there for an hour, observing it at the same time. He will assess the RBCs sinking in the tube and observe how far, how quickly, and how many RBCs did sink.
Combined with ESR, your doctor may ask you to take a C-reactive protein (CRP) test. CRP has the ability to check your risk of heart disease including coronary artery disease (CAD).
ESR Test Results
The results in doing an ESR test is measured in millimeters per hour (mm/hr). To know whether you have a normal ESR test results, consider the below data.
- Men over 50 years old: Under 20 mm/hr
- Men under 50 years old: Under 15 mm/hr
- Women over 50 years old: Under 30 mm/hr
- Women under 50 years old: Under 20 mm/hr
- Children: Between 0 and 10 mm/hr
If your ESR test results show an abnormal measurement, it does not point to any particular disease. It simply tells you that inflammation is present in your body and further medical examination is needed.
The test on its own is meaningless and unreliable. Besides, there is a lot of factors that causes an alteration in your ESR test results such as pregnancy, advanced age, and medication use.
Worrying too much about an abnormal ESR test result is not necessary as many of its causes are not a big concern.
Instead of worrying, speak with your doctor and work with him so you may find what’s behind your symptoms. If the result of your test is too elevated or low, health professionals usually make a follow-up test.
What are the Risks Associated with ESR Test?
The procedure performed during the blood collection has a very low risk. The complications that you may experience are:
- Bleeding, which can vary from light to excessive
- Vein inflammation
The needle may also give you a slight pain as it is injected and removed.
Lastly, if the sight of blood makes you uncomfortable, you may feel discomfort during the blood extraction.