The ESR test is nonspecific as it only confirms the presence or absence of inflammatory activity in the body. Doctors then use other lab tests, clinical findings, and the person’s health history alongside ESR test results to make a diagnosis.
Doctors also use the ESR test to monitor how conditions, such as those below, are progressing or responding to treatment.
- rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the joints
- temporal arteritis, a type of blood vessel inflammation
- polymyalgia rheumatica, a complication of temporal arteritis
- systemic vasculitis, inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels
ESR: What Your Test Results Mean
The normal reference range for ESR results is 1–13 mm/hr for males and 1–20 mm/hr for females. These values will also vary depending on the person’s age.
People with low ESR values may have:
- sickle cell anemia, a condition that affects the shape of red blood cells
- leukemia, a blood cell cancer
- a high red blood cell count
- congestive heart failure
- low levels of the protein fibrinogen in the blood
- hyper viscosity, an increase in blood thickness
- a very high white blood cell count
People with moderate level ESR results may have one of the following conditions:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- anemia, a reduced number of red blood cells
- thyroid disease
- kidney disease
- red blood cell abnormalities, such as macrocytosis
- some forms of cancer, such as lymphoma
- tuberculosis, a type of lung infection
- a bone infection
- a heart infection
- a systemic infection
An extremely high ESR value, which can be 100 mm/hr, may indicate one of these conditions:
- multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells
- Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a white blood cell cancer
- temporal arteritis or polymyalgia rheumatica
- hypersensitivity vasculitis, which is a reaction to an allergen that results in blood vessel inflammation
Doctors then compare the ESR test result with other test results to confirm a suspected diagnosis. They will also consider the symptoms and signs that a person is experiencing and their personal and family medical history.
ESR: Diagnosis Precautions
One precaution in diagnosing disease off an ESR blood test is that slightly higher levels can also occur in pregnancy and advancing age.
However, if the inflammation is corroborated, there are specific treatments. These may include:
- antibiotics, where there is an infection
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen, diclofenac, and celecoxib
- corticosteroid medications, such as methyl prednisolone and dexamethasone
NSAIDs and corticosteroids specifically treat inflammation.
An ESR test result outside of the normal range can indicate inflammation in the body. If so, doctors will order further tests and get additional clinical information to make an accurate diagnosis.
On the other hand, there are some non-medical causes of abnormal results, such as pregnancy and aging.
Although doctors cannot diagnose a specific medical condition with an ESR test, the result can establish whether or not there is inflammation in the body.