Anemia in the elderly: current understanding and emerging concepts

Blood Rev. 2006 Jul;20(4):213-26. doi: 10.1016/j.blre.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Feb 10.


Anemia is currently defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a hemoglobin (Hb) level <13 g/dL in men and <12 g/dL in women. While estimates vary widely, nearly one quarter of community-based octagenerians and one half of the chronically ill elderly have Hb levels that satisfy a diagnosis of anemia according to these criteria. A growing body of evidence has linked adverse events with even "mild" anemia or low-normal Hb in the elderly. Recent studies suggest strongly that aging is associated with dysregulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, most notably interleukin-6 (IL-6), which may negatively impact hematopoiesis, either by inhibition of erythropoietin (EPO) production or interaction with EPO receptors. Anemia in older individuals is associated with a very wide range of complications, including increased risk for mortality, cardiovascular disease, cognitive dysfunction, longer hospitalization for elective procedures and comorbid conditions, reduced bone density, and falls and fractures. Not surprisingly, anemia also has a significant effect on quality of life (QOL) in the elderly. Most anemia in older individuals results from iron deficiency, chronic inflammation, or chronic kidney disease, or it may be unexplained. Future research on anemia in the elderly should focus on the age-related physiologic changes underlying this condition and whether anemia correction can reduce anemia-associated risks, and improve QOL.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Anemia / blood
  • Anemia / complications*
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Anemia / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Quality of Life


  • Hemoglobins