Ulcerative Colititis? Check Iron Levels

Patients with ulcerative colitis were not tested or treated for iron deficiency anemia, University of Pennsylvania research found.

People with ulcerative colitis may need to pump some iron--but not the weight-lifting kind.

Research from the University of Pennsylvania showed that newly diagnosed patients in the Veterans Administration health care system were not consistently tested or treated for iron deficiency anemia.

Anemia is a condition in which the hemoglobin molecules--which carry oxygen throughout the body--are lower than normal. Iron is required for hemoglobin production. A simple blood test is available to check for anemia.

Ulcerative colitis damages intestinal tissue and can cause iron deficiency anemia because of blood loss through the intestine and poor absorption of iron. The amount of blood loss is often small so the iron deficiency occurs over an extended period, and patients may not have any obvious symptoms.

Nabeel Khan, MD, led the study of 836 patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis between 2001 and 2011.

Dr. Kahn is a gastroenterologist and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Dr. Kahn and his colleagues found that over a period of eight years' follow-up, 70 percent of the patients developed anemia. They found that about one-third of the patients were never tested for iron deficiency.

Of those diagnosed, nearly one-fourth did not receive iron replacement therapy. Patients who had moderate to severe iron deficiency were more likely to be treated, which the authors suggested "could explain the high prevalence of moderate to severe iron deficiency anemia in our population, as they were not treated during the early stage of their anemia.”

Dr. Kahn and his colleagues recommended that testing and treatment for iron deficiency be added to the ulcerative colitis care quality indicators listed by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and the American Gastroenterology Association.

The study was published in the October issue of Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

The study itself and Dr. Kahn were supported by a grant from Luitpold Pharmaceuticals which manufactures iron replacement products.

None of the other authors reported a conflict of interest.