Unexplained anemia of aging: Etiology, health consequences, and diagnostic criteria

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2022 Mar;70(3):891-899. doi: 10.1111/jgs.17565. Epub 2021 Nov 19.


Background: Up to 15% of people aged 60 and over are anemic, and the prevalence of anemia increases with age. In older men and women, anemia is associated with increases in the risk of death and all-cause hospitalization, poor functional capacity, quality of life, and depression.

Methods and results: We reviewed the literature describing anemia in aging populations, focusing on the specific diagnostic criteria of anemia and potential causes in older men and women. Even after extensive etiologic workup that involves careful medical history, physical examination, laboratory measurements, and additional studies such as bone marrow biopsy, anemia of aging is unexplained in up to 40% of older patients with anemia. As a result, treatment options remain limited.

Conclusions: The prevalence of unexplained anemia of aging (UAA; also called unexplained anemia of the elderly, UAE), its deleterious impacts on health, physical function, and quality of life, and the lack of effective treatment or therapy guidelines represent a compelling unmet clinical need. In this review and consensus document, we discuss the scope of the problem, possible causes of UAA, diagnostic criteria, and potential treatment options. Because even mild anemia is strongly linked to poor clinical outcomes, it should receive clinical attention rather than simply being considered a normal part of aging.

Keywords: erythropoietin; hemoglobin; physical function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Anemia* / diagnosis
  • Anemia* / epidemiology
  • Anemia* / etiology
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life*


  • Hemoglobins