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Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) is also called Sed Rate or Sedimentation Rate. It is a simple test used to determine how much inflammation is in the body, but it cannot diagnose the specific condition causing the inflammation.
How ESR Blood Test Works
Inflammation changes the proteins in red blood cells causing them to bind to one another in clumps, making them denser than normal red blood cells. An ESR test simply notes the speed at which blood cells sink to the bottom of a test tube. The faster the blood cells fall, the more inflammation is in your body.
- Inflammation changes the proteins in red blood cells causing them to bind to one another in clumps, making them denser than normal red blood cells.
- An ESR test simply notes the speed at which blood cells sink to the bottom of a test tube.
Primary Uses of the ESR Test
A High Number of Leukocytes
ESR tests are most often used to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis (GCA) 3. Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of the lining of the joints, resulting in pain, joint damage and sometimes deformity.
Increased ESR has many causes, including pregnancy, menstruation, infection or anemia. Many diseases such as kidney disease, syphilis, tuberculosis, thyroid disease and lupus also cause ESR rates to be higher than average. In addition, certain medications such as oral contraceptives, vitamin A, dextran and methyldopa (aldomet) can cause ESR readings to be higher than normal.
Very High ESR
What Is High RDW and Low Ferritin?
In addition to polymyalgia rheumatica, giant cell arteritis and rheumatoid arthritis, other common causes of a very high ESR include necrotizing vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessel walls) and macroglobulinemia primary (cancer of the B lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell).
Though a low ESR is generally not a cause for concern, it is worth noting that liver or kidney disease, congestive heart failure and some protein abnormalities as well as sickle cell anemia or conditions that cause an increase in either red or white blood cells can cause a lower than normal ESR result. Medications such as aspirin, cortisone and quinine can also result in a lower ESR.
Discuss your ESR Test Results with a Doctor
Because there are so many conditions that can affect an ESR test, it is important to discuss your results with a qualified doctor who is aware of all your medical conditions and the medications you are taking 1. The ESR blood test is considered a screening test and cannot be used to diagnose any one condition. It is, however, useful in screening for certain inflammatory conditions, or in monitoring their progress.
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- Mayo Clinic: Sed Rate
- Lab Tests Online: ESR
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- Diagnosing and treating lupus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018.
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR). Lab Tests Online. Updated July 11, 2018.
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- MedlinePlus. ESR. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Updated May 21, 2017.
- MedlinePlus. Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Updated September 6, 2017.
Erika Wright is a writer from California with a Master's degree in postcolonial literature. She has lived in five different countries. She enjoys the challenge of combining her love of travel and academia with the lessons and adventures of daily life in her writing.