The effect of iron deficiency and anaemia on women's health

Anaesthesia. 2021 Apr:76 Suppl 4:84-95. doi: 10.1111/anae.15405.


Iron deficiency and anaemia are global health problems and major causes of morbidity in women. Current definitions of anaemia in women are historic and have been challenged by recent data from observational studies. Menstrual loss, abnormal uterine bleeding and pregnancy put women at risk of developing iron deficiency which can result in severe fatigue, reduced exercise capacity and poor work performance. Iron deficiency and anaemia during pregnancy are associated with adverse maternal and fetal outcomes, including neurocognitive deficits in children born to iron-deficient mothers. Both iron deficiency and anaemia are common in women undergoing surgery but their association with poor outcomes remains uncertain. The enduring burden of iron deficiency and anaemia in women suggests that current strategies for recognition, prevention and treatment are limited in their utility. Improvements in our understanding of iron homeostasis and the development of new iron preparations, which are better absorbed with fewer side-effects, may improve therapeutic effectiveness of oral iron. Intravenous iron is efficacious for correcting anaemia rapidly but high-quality data on patient-centred outcomes and cost-effectiveness are currently lacking. Many recommendations for the treatment of iron deficiency and anaemia in national guidelines are not supported by high-quality evidence. There is a need for robust epidemiological data and well-designed clinical trials. The latter will require collaborative working between researchers and patients to design studies in ways that incorporate patients' perspectives on the research process and target outcomes that matter to them.

Keywords: anaemia; iron deficiency; pregnancy: haematological changes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anemia / drug therapy
  • Anemia / pathology*
  • Anemia / therapy
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / pathology*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / therapy
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion
  • Female
  • Hepcidins / metabolism
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Iron / administration & dosage
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Women's Health


  • Hepcidins
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists
  • Iron