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Why would you need the ESR test?


The erythrocyte sedimentation rate sometimes called the ESR test in short, is not something that can be used to diagnose just one specific condition. This would help the physician to determine if your body is experiencing inflammation. The test also goes by the name of sed test or the sedimentation rate test. The doctor would actually ask you to perform the ESR test along with several other tests like the Mantoux test. The combined test results would help to put forward a diagnosis. The tests are generally ordered based on the symptoms that you are facing. This test may also be used to monitor inflammatory diseases.

When would the doctors ask you to take the ESR test?

 The red blood cells or RBCs that carry the oxygen in the body cling together when a person is experiencing inflammation and forms clumps. The clumping would affect the rate at which the RBCs would sink in a tube of blood. The test would let the doctor understand how much clumping is occurring in the body. The likeliness of the inflammation increases with a faster rate of sinking of the cells to the bottom to the test tube. The inflammation in the body can be identified and measured with the help of the test. But, it would not pinpoint to the cause of inflammation. This is the reason why the ESR test would be performed alone only in rare cases. Other tests like the ones to find the sgpt levels would be combined as well to determine the cause of the symptoms.

The doctor can use the ESR test to diagnose conditions that might be the reason behind the inflammation, like cancers, infections and autoimmune diseases. The ESR test would help the doctor to monitor inflammatory conditions, like the systemic lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor can even order the test if you have some types of arthritis or muscle problems like polymyalgia rheumatica.

What are the symptoms that might push you to take the ESR test?

 The inflammatory bowel disease or arthritis or the symptoms of other inflammatory diseases might lead you to take the ESR test. The symptoms would include:

  • an abnormal loss in the weight
  • pain or stiffness in the joints lasting more than half an hour in the morning
  • headaches which are associated with pain caused in the shoulders
  • fever, diarrhoea, blood in stool or other digestive symptoms or some other unusual abdominal pain
  • pain in the neck, shoulders or pelvis

How is the ESR test conducted?

 The test is conducted by simple drawing blood and generally takes only a minute or two. First, the skin directly over the vein is cleaned, following which the needle is inserted to collect the blood. The needle is removed after the collection of the blood sample. The puncture site is then covered to stop all bleeding.

The blood sample is allowed to sit in a thin tube where it would sit for one hour. The doctor would assess how much the RBCs have sunk into the tube during this hour or afterwards. It is observed how many have sunk and how quickly they have sunk. Inflammation can also cause abnormal proteins to appear in the blood. These proteins are the reason why the RBCs clump together, making them fall more quickly. The doctor might be ordering the C-reactive protein test along with the ESR test. Although this test also measures inflammation, it can also help to predict the risk of coronary artery disease or some other heart disease.

What are the normal results for the ESR test?

 The ESR test results are generally calculated in millimetres per hour (mm/hr). The normal ESR tests results would look like:

  • Children should have the ESR between 0 and 10.
  • Women under 50 should have ESR under 20.
  • Men under 50 ESR should have ESR under 15.
  • Women above 50 should have ESR under 30.
  • Men above 50 should have ESR under 20.

The abnormal ESR does not diagnose any disease and just identifies that there is inflammation and there is a need for further investigation.