Blood viscosity and its relationship to iron deficiency, symptoms, and exercise capacity in adults with cyanotic congenital heart disease

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2006 Jul 18;48(2):356-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2006.03.040. Epub 2006 Jun 22.


Objectives: This study sought to determine the relationship between blood viscosity and iron deficiency and their impact on symptoms and exercise function in adults with cyanotic congenital heart disease.

Background: Iron deficiency is believed to raise whole blood viscosity in cyanotic congenital heart disease, although available data are inconsistent.

Methods: Thirty-nine cyanotic adults were prospectively assessed for iron deficiency (transferrin saturation < or =5%), hyperviscosity symptoms, and exercise capacity. Same-day measurement of whole blood viscosity and hematocrit (Hct) adjusted viscosity (cells resuspended in autologous plasma to Hct of 45%) was performed at shear rates ranging from 0.277 s(-1) to 128.5 s(-1).

Results: Viscosity did not differ between patients with iron deficiency (n = 14) and those without (n = 25). Whole blood viscosity correlated with Hct (r = 0.63, p < 0.001 at low shear and r = 0.84, p < 0.001 at high shear) but not with red blood cell size or iron indices. Hyperviscosity symptoms were independent of iron indices but directly correlated with increased Hct-adjusted viscosity (r = 0.41, p = 0.01). Exercise capacity did not differ in iron-deficient patients. However, peak oxygen consumption was higher in those with Hct > or = 65% (12.6 +/- 3.4 ml/kg/m2 vs. 9.8 +/- 2.6 ml/kg/m2, mean +/- SD, p = 0.036) despite higher whole blood viscosity in these same individuals (p < 0.01 for all shear rates).

Conclusions: Iron deficiency is common in cyanotic adults but does not alter viscosity. Hyperviscosity symptoms are associated with a higher Hct-adjusted viscosity independent of cell size or iron stores. Higher Hct is associated with better exercise capacity. Further work to understand the origin of hyperviscosity symptoms is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / blood*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology
  • Blood Viscosity*
  • Erythrocyte Aggregation
  • Erythrocyte Count
  • Erythrocyte Indices
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise Tolerance*
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / blood*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / physiopathology
  • Hematocrit
  • Humans
  • Iron / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Prospective Studies


  • Iron