Porphyrins help form many important substances in the body. One of these is hemoglobin. This is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen in the blood.
Porphyrins can be measured in the blood or the urine. This article discusses the blood test.
How the Test is Performed
A blood sample is needed.
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 to 14 hours before this test. You may drink water right before the test. Your test results may be affected if you do not follow these instructions.
How the Test will Feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or slight bruising. This soon goes away.
Why the Test is Performed
This test is used to diagnose porphyrias. This is a group of rare disorders often passed down through family members.
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: 0 to 1.0 mcg/dL (0 to 15 nmol/L)
- Coproporphyrin level: <2 mcg/dL (<30 nmol/L)
- Protoporphyrin level: 16 to 60 mcg/dL (0.28 to 1.07 µmol/L)
- Uroporphyrin level: <2 mcg/dL (<2.4 nmol/L)
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
What Abnormal Results Mean
Increased levels of coproporphyrins may be a sign of:
An increased protoporphyrin level may be a sign of:
- Anemia of chronic disease
- Congenital erythropoietic protoporphyria
- Increased erythropoiesis
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Lead poisoning
- Sideroblastic anemia
- Variegate porphyria
An increased uroporphyrin level may be a sign of:
- Congenital erythropoietic porphyria
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
There is little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one person 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 lightheaded
- Multiple punctures to locate veins
- Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
- Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
Protoporphyrin levels; Porphyrins - total; Coproporphyrin levels; PROTO test
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Porphyrins, quantitative - blood. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:891-892.
Fuller SJ, Wiley JS. Heme biosynthesis and its disorders: porphyrias and sideroblastic anemias. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 38.
Review Date 1/19/2021
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.