Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is a common problem that often goes unrecognised.

IDA occurs at all stages of life and may be due to physiological, nutritional or social factors in at risk groups.

Iron deficiency is also often due to pathological processes and may be an indication of serious underlying conditions, such as malabsorptive disorders or gastrointestinal (GI) cancers.

Iron deficiency and IDA have a number of clinical consequences such as:

  • anaemia
  • decreased memory, impaired learning and concentration
  • impaired immune function
  • decreased aerobic sports performance
  • decreased work productivity
  • fatigue
  • adverse pregnancy outcomes:
    • increased risk of low birth weight
    • increased risk of prematurity
    • increased risk of maternal morbidity
  • infant motor and mental function delay, and
  • increased risk of transfusion and associated outcomes.

Improving the identification and management of IDA is important to ensure optimal health outcomes for patients and effective use of healthcare resources.

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Groups at risk and causes of iron deficiency

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia can occur at all stages of life, being most prevalent among at-risk groups due to physiological, nutritional or social factors.

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Iron physiology and metabolism

The body contains 2.5–4 g of iron, most of which is bound to haem within red blood cells. Iron is mainly obtained from our diet.

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Iron deficiency without anaemia

Iron deficiency without anaemia is three times as common as iron deficiency anaemia. It’s been shown to have similar consequences as iron deficiency with anaemia in women, adolescents and children.

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Anaemia and iron deficiency in blood donors

Blood donation removes red cells and as a result, iron. All types of donation can be a risk factor for developing iron deficiency.

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Diagnosis and investigation of iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is diagnosed by a full blood examination and iron studies. Iron deficiency can occur without anaemia and ferritin is required to confirm diagnosis.

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Determining the underlying causes

Evidence-based guidelines highlight factors to consider when investigating the underlying causes of iron deficiency in different patient groups.

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Treating iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency can be treated in a number of ways. The aim is focused at replenishing iron stores and normalising haemoglobin levels.

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