Health - Esr test, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate

Esr test

How is it used?

The erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) is an easy, inexpensive, nonspecific test that has been used for many years to help detect conditions associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including infections, cancers, and autoimmune diseases. ESR is said to be nonspecific because increased results do not tell the doctor exactly where the inflammation is in the body or what is causing it, and also because it can be affected by other conditions besides inflammation. For this reason, the ESR is typically used in conjunction with other tests.

ESR is helpful in diagnosing two specific inflammatory diseases, temporal artheritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. A high ESR is one of the main test results used to support the diagnosis. It is also used to monitor disease activity and response to therapy in both of these diseases.

When is it ordered?

An ESR may be ordered when a condition or disease is suspected of causing inflammation somewhere in the body. There are numerous inflammatory conditions that may be detected using this test. For example, it may be ordered when arthritis is suspected of causing inflammation and pain in the joints or when digestive symptoms are suspected to be caused by inflammatory bowel disease.

A physician may order an ESR test (along with other tests) to evaluate a patient who has symptoms that suggest polymyalgia rheumatica or temporal arteritis, such as headaches, neck or shoulder pain, pelvic pain, anemia, unexplained weight loss, and joint stiffness. There are many other conditions that can result in a temporary or sustained elevation in the ESR.

Before doing an extensive workup looking for disease, a doctor may want to repeat the ESR test after a period of several weeks or months. If a doctor already knows the patient has a disease like temporal arteritis (where changes in the ESR mirror those in the disease process), she may order the ESR at regular intervals to assist in monitoring the course of the disease. In the case of Hodgkin's disease, for example, a sustained elevation in ESR may be a predictor of an early relapse following chemotherapy.

What does the test result mean?

ince ESR is a nonspecific marker of inflammation and is affected by other factors, the results must be used along with the doctor's other clinical findings, the patient's health history, and results from other appropriate laboratory tests. If the ESR and clinical findings match, the doctor may be able to confirm or rule out a suspected diagnosis. A single elevated ESR, without any symptoms of a specific disease, will usually not give the physician enough information to make a medical decision. Furthermore, a normal result does not rule out inflammation or disease.

Moderately elevated ESR occurs with inflammation, but also with anemia, infection, pregnancy, and old age.

A very high ESR usually has an obvious cause, such as a marked increase in globulins that can be due to a severe infection. The doctor will use other follow-up tests, such as blood cultures, depending on the patient's symptoms. People with multiple myeloma or Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia (tumors that make large amounts of immunoglobulins) typically have very high ESRs even if they don't have inflammation. As noted before, those with polymyalgia rheumatica or temporal arteritis may also have very high ESRs.

A rising ESR can mean an increase in inflammation or a poor response to a therapy; a decreasing ESR can mean a good response.

Although a low ESR is not usually a cause for concern, it can be seen with conditions that inhibit the normal sedimentation of RBCs, such as polycythemia, extreme leukocytosis, and some protein abnormalities. Some changes in red cell shape (such as sickle cells in sickle cell anemia) also lower the ESR.

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