Background: The prevalence of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is 2-5% in men and postmenopausal women in the developed world. IDA is commonly caused by chronic gastrointestinal blood loss, and a thorough examination of the gastrointestinal tract must be standard practice.
Objective: To retrospectively study endoscopic evaluations of patients from general practitioners diagnosed with IDA in a peripheral hospital laboratory in order to determine the cause of IDA and the number of gastrointestinal malignancies.
Material and methods: We retrospectively evaluated all patients with IDA diagnosed in a peripheral hospital laboratory by the general practitioner in the region of our hospital from 1 January 2004 until 31 December 2005. We included women older than 50 and men 18 years and older without a history of IDA in the previous 2 years.
Results: In 2 years, 287 patients were newly diagnosed with IDA in our hospital laboratory. Only 90 (31%) patients were endoscopically evaluated within 4 months. Gastrointestinal endoscopy revealed at least one lesion potentially responsible for blood loss in 41 of 90 (46%) patients. The most common lesions identified by gastroduodenal endoscopy were erosive esophagitis, gastritis and duodenitis (14%). Cancer was the most commonly detected lesion in the colon, accounting for 17 of 21 colonic lesions explaining IDA. In total, gastrointestinal malignancy was diagnosed in 2% of screened patients. Factors determining the decision for endoscopic screening were lower hemoglobin level, lower ferritin level and male gender.
Conclusion: In our retrospective study of patients with IDA, only 31% received any form of endoscopic evaluation. In general practice, IDA is investigated suboptimally, and interventions other than the issuing of guidelines are needed to change practice.