Porphyrins are a group of chemicals that help form many important substances in the body, including hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the blood.
This article discusses the test to measure the total amount of porphyrins in your blood.
Protoporphyrin levels; Porphyrins – total; Coproporphyrin levels; PROTO test
How the test is performed
A blood sample is needed. For information on how this is done, see:
The sample is then placed in ice and taken immediately to the laboratory. Three porphyrins can normally be measured in small amounts in human blood. They are:
- Protoporphyrin (PROTO)
Protoporphyrin is normally found in the highest amount. More tests are needed to show the levels of specific porphyrins.
How to prepare for the test
You should not eat for 12 – 14 hours before this test. You may drink water right before the test. Failure to follow these restrictions may affect the test results.
How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Why the test is performed
This test is used to diagnose
It may also be used along with other tests to diagnose lead poisoning and certain nervous system and skin disorders.
This test specifically measures total porphyrin levels, but reference values (a range of values seen in a group of healthy people) for the individual components are also included:
- Total porphyrin levels: 16 to 60 mcg/dL
- Coproporphyrin levels: < 2 mcg/dL
- Protoporphyrin levels: 16 to 60 mcg/dL
- Uroporphyrin levels: < 2 mcg/dL
Note: mcg/dL = micrograms per deciliter
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.
What abnormal results mean
Increased levels of coproporphyrins may be a sign of:
Congenital erythropoietic porphyria
- Hepatic coproporphyria
- Variegate porphyria
Increased protoporphyrin levels may be a sign of:
Anemia of chronic disease
- Increased erythropoiesis
Iron deficiency anemia Lead poisoning
- Sideroblastic anemia
- Variegate porphyria
Increased uroporphyrin levels may be a sign of:
- Congenital erythropoietic porphyria
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
What the risks are
Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
- Excessive bleeding
- Fainting or feeling light-headed
- Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)