Determining the amount of inflammation present in the body is difficult to identify. Patients suffering from autoimmune disorders and inflammatory diseases such as tuberculosis, arthritis and tissue death are usually left untreated when proper diagnosis is not conducted. As such, doctors employ the Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) blood test to detect or monitor the presence or progress of the inflammation. The test is conducted by taking a sample of a patient’s blood by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm. It is important to point out, however, that ESR tests cannot pinpoint the specific disorder present in the body.

Because it is a non-specific marker of inflammation, the ESR test result must be scrutinized with other clinical information. A concurrence or disparity between the two can help a doctor arrive or rule out a certain diagnosis.

When is it ordered?

A physician may order an ESR test when the patient manifests symptoms of inflammation in the body. Conditions that can results a change in ESR are polymyalgia rheumatica or temporal arteritis, inflammatory bowel disease and anemia, among others. Muscle pains, weight loss and joint stiffness are enough signs for a physician to conduct an ESR test.

The ESR test is may be conducted more than once; it is usually repeated after a period of several weeks or months to monitor the ESR. If the doctor is already aware of the condition, he or she can conduct an ESR test at intervals to monitor the progress of the disease. For example, a sustained ESR elevation of patients with Hodgkin’s disease signals an early relapse after chemotherapy. 

Reading the Test Results

A normal ESR blood test result depends on certain factors such as age and gender. For men and women under the age of 50, the normal ESR would be less than 15 mm or 20 mm per hour, respectively. The average ESR increases up to 30 mm per hour for people over 50 years old.

An elevated ESR or an abnormal result, can be caused by different conditions. Some are due to chronic kidney disease, lupus, autoimmune diseases, inflammation of tissues, or thyroid disease. Pregnant women are also expected to have higher ESR than normal. These conditions , however, only increase the ESR level moderately . There are other diseases that cause extremely high ESR levels such as giant cell arteritis and Kahler’s disease. Conversely, diseases such as congestive heart failure and sickle cell anemia can result to low ESR levels.

There are also cases when an ESR test result is skewed. Conditions which cause false results are thyroiditis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. While these are inflammatory in nature, they may not be cause of the medical symptoms a patient experiences. This situation warrants other laboratory examinations to arrive at a diagnosis.

A single elevated ESR is not conclusive; and a normal result does not mean everything is normal either. As such, an ESR test result must be used along with a patient’s other clinical findings and health history. The doctor will also have to conduct follow-up tests to determine the veracity of the ESR test.

FAQs on ESR tests

Is ESR recommended to everyone?

Because it is non-specific, an ESR test is not recommended on people without apparent symptoms. It cannot detect underlying conditions or identify a certain type of disease. It can only measure the level of inflammation in the body.

What other tests can be conducted other than ESR?

CRP and CBC tests can be conducted at the same time as the ESR. Depending on a patient’s symptoms, a doctor can also order additional tests which are more specified, such as the Rheumatoid Factor test for arthritis.