Letters To The Editor

Consider thalassemia traits in patients with iron deficiency

Julianna Schantz-Dunn, MD, MPH, and Robert L. Barbieri, MD


Consider thalassemia traits in patients with iron deficiency

The editorial is an excellent review of iron deficiency as an associated finding with adverse health and pregnancy outcomes. However, one genetic issue appears to have escaped comment. In Florida, our African American patients have a commonly found association with microcytic anemia at least as often as iron deficiency: a variety of α- and ß-thalassemia traits that may occur individually or together. Other racial groups, including Mediterranean and Asian patients, also may carry both the α- and ß-thalassemia traits.

Your recommendation to routinely screen for ferritin deficit is laudable as a general health care practice. If the screening result is normal, however, consider thalassemia carrier states as a secondary explanation as well as a genetic issue requiring partner testing. Aggressive iron loading of a nondeficient anemic patient can risk excess absorption, storage, and ultimate organ compromise in later life if continued indefinitely.

Richard P. Perkins, MD
Fort Myers, Florida

Patient education is key to managing iron deficiency

Forty years ago, my professors expounded on how some people could not absorb iron and that the answer was intravenous iron infusion. After writing a few prescriptions, however, I found that I no longer had patients with absorptive problems once I learned to carefully, and with visual aids, explain the iron story and meticulously monitor compliance. I have been through the “slow Fe” and the “prenatal vitamins have iron” nonsense. Ferrous sulfate is about as good as anything. I have explained the theory of vitamin C−assist and found that telling people to avoid taking iron with meals is folly.

I suggest that the iron story is complete. Rather than wasting money on further research, we should spend funds on teaching young physicians to educate patients and monitor compliance. In recent years, I have found that a daily text message to the patient frequently is very helpful.

Robert W. Jackson, MD
Washougal, Washington

Dr. Barbieri responds

I thank Drs. Perkins and Jackson for their helpful recommendations for the management of iron deficiency anemia. I agree with Dr. Perkins that screening for thalassemia is an important part of preconception and prenatal care. In the editorial’s table on page 10 discussing the differential diagnosis of anemia, we mentioned the importance of hemoglobin electrophoresis and measurement of vitamin B12 and folate levels to identify cases of anemia caused by thalassemia or vitamin deficiency. I agree with Dr. Jackson that oral iron supplementation along with patient education can resolve most cases of iron deficiency in early and mid-pregnancy. However, in the last few weeks of pregnancy there may not be sufficient time for oral iron supplementation to be effective in resolving iron deficiency anemia. In this situation and in patients at high risk for malabsorption, including women with prior gastric bypass, intravenous iron might be the best approach to resolving the anemia.

Share your thoughts! Send your Letter to the Editor to rbarbieri@frontlinemedcom.com. Please include your name and the city and state in which you practice.

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