What Causes High ESR Levels?


What Is the Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)?

The Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR), alternatively referred to as the sedimentation rate or "sed rate," stands as a widely employed blood test. Its significance lies in the information it provides regarding your overall health. The essence of this test lies in its ability to gauge how swiftly red blood cells descend to the bottom of a tube over a predetermined period of an hour. A high ESR level is a pivotal signpost, pointing towards a diverse array of potential underlying health matters. This attribute renders it an irreplaceable instrument in the realm of diagnostics.

What Is ESR Used for?

The ESR test is a fundamental diagnostic tool in the medical world. It serves various purposes, enabling healthcare professionals to identify and monitor medical conditions with precision and accuracy.

Inflammation Detection:

ESR is highly effective at detecting and monitoring inflammation within the body. The ESR is inclined to elevate when an active inflammatory process is underway, often attributable to infections, autoimmune diseases, or concealed underlying conditions. This upward trajectory is due to the heightened production of proteins termed acute-phase reactants within the bloodstream. These proteins are integral to the body's immune reaction to inflammation.

Disease Monitoring:

ESR plays a pivotal role in tracking the disease's progression for individuals already diagnosed with inflammatory conditions. Regular ESR tests help healthcare providers assess how effective the treatment plan is and make required adjustments to achieve better disease management.

Infection Assessment:

ESR is a valuable tool for diagnosing infectious conditions like bacterial endocarditis. When an ongoing infection occurs, the body typically initiates an immune response, including increased ESR levels. Healthcare professionals can use this to identify the source of infection and tailor appropriate treatments.

Cardiovascular Risk Assessment:

Recent research has unveiled a new dimension of the ESR test - its potential in assessing cardiovascular risk. Studies show a link between elevated ESR levels and an increased risk of heart diseases. This connection arises from the ongoing inflammation that takes root within the blood vessels, actively contributing to the development and progression of atherosclerosis.

Normal Range for ESR Levels

Before finding out what a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate means, it is essential to comprehend what constitutes a typical ESR reading. The reference range for ESR can exhibit slight variations across different laboratories, but for adults, a standard range is as follows:

  • Men: Between 0-15 millimetres per hour (mm/hr)
  • Women: Ranging upwards 0-20 mm/hr

What Do High ESR Levels Indicate?

A high ESR level means something in your body may deviate from the norm. The elevation of this marker can provide valuable insights into your health status. Here's what a high ESR blood test can indicate:


Raised ESR causes the presence of inflammation. In specific scenarios, ESR levels tend to ascend. This elevation directly manifests the body's immune system responding to counter the underlying inflammatory processes.


In the realm of infections, whether from bacteria or viruses, ESR levels can experience an uptick. It's crucial to emphasize that the ESR test isn't a standalone diagnostic tool but rather collaborates with other tests to identify the source of the infection precisely.

Tissue Damage:

Beyond inflammation and infection, a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate can also indicate tissue damage in the body. When tissues are injured or damaged, as in the case of physical trauma, recent surgery, or even a heart attack, the body's natural response is to initiate the healing process.


While the ESR test is non-specific, meaning it does not pinpoint a particular disease, persistently elevated levels may warrant further investigation. In some cases, raised ESR causes certain types of cancers, including lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

What Can Cause High ESR Levels?

Understanding the factors that lead to a high ESR is crucial for a comprehensive health assessment. A range of conditions and circumstances can result in an elevated ESR, such as:


Infections, whether caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, can trigger an inflammatory response within the body. As part of the immune system's defence mechanisms, it releases acute-phase reactants, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), which can lead to elevated ESR levels.

Autoimmune Diseases:

Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and vasculitis, often entail chronic inflammation. As a result, individuals with these conditions may experience high ESR levels as a manifestation of the ongoing autoimmune response.

Tissue Injury:

Physical trauma, recent surgical procedures, or tissue damage from various causes can elevate ESR levels. When the body perceives injury, it initiates the healing process, often involving inflammation.


ESR levels tend to be higher in pregnant women. This physiological change is typically considered normal during pregnancy and is attributed to various factors, including increased blood volume and hormonal changes. When determining what a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate means in pregnant individuals, healthcare providers consider this normal elevation within the context of pregnancy.

Certain Medications:

Specific medications, such as corticosteroids and birth control pills, can influence ESR levels. A high ESR level means you must inform your doctor of any medications you are taking so that they can suggest any modifications.

Chronic Diseases:

Certain chronic conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity, can be a reason for high ESR levels. These conditions can contribute to chronic, low-grade inflammation within the body over an extended period.

When to See a Doctor

If your ESR blood test is high, it is crucial to see a healthcare professional promptly. Although a high ESR is a valuable signpost, it should not be misconstrued as a standalone diagnostic tool. Your physician will meticulously evaluate many factors, like your medical history, clinical symptoms, and the results of supplementary diagnostic tests. The amalgamation of these facets forms the bedrock for unravelling the reasons behind a high ESR level.

Recognizing and addressing the underlying condition at its early stages is vital for safeguarding your health and overall well-being. High ESR levels can cause several underlying health issues, prompting further investigation and appropriate treatment. Always remember that regular health check-ups and an understanding of tests like ESR contribute significantly to your overall well-being.