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Med Clin North Am. 1992 May;76(3):549-66.

Microcytic anemia. Differential diagnosis and management of iron deficiency anemia.

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Department of Internal Medicine, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville.


Microcytic anemia is defined as the presence of small, often hypochromic, red blood cells in a peripheral blood smear and is usually characterized by a low MCV (less than 83 micron 3). Iron deficiency is the most common cause of microcytic anemia. The absence of iron stores in the bone marrow remains the most definitive test for differentiating iron deficiency from the other microcytic states, ie, anemia of chronic disease, thalassemia, and sideroblastic anemia. However, measurement of serum ferritin, iron concentration, transferrin saturation and iron-binding capacity, and, more recently, serum transferrin receptors may obviate proceeding to bone marrow evaluation. The human body maintains iron homeostasis by recycling the majority of its stores. Disruptions in this balance are commonly seen during menstruation, pregnancy, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Although the iron-absorptive capacity is able to increase upon feedback regarding total body iron stores or erythropoietic activity, this physiologic response is minimal. Significant iron loss requires replacement with iron supplements. The vast majority of patients respond effectively to inexpensive and usually well-tolerated oral iron preparations. In the rare circumstances of malabsorption, losses exceeding maximal oral replacement, or true intolerance, parenteral iron dextran is effective. In either form of treatment, it is necessary to replete iron stores in addition to correcting the anemia.

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