Iron deficiency and intestinal malabsorption in HIV disease

J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1996 May;22(4):359-63. doi: 10.1097/00005176-199605000-00004.


Children with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection have a higher prevalence of intestinal malabsorption. Anemia is also a common feature in these children. The aims of this work were (a) to establish the prevalence of iron deficiency in HIV-infected children, (b) to test the hypothesis that iron deficiency is related to intestinal malabsorption, (c) to see whether it may contribute to anemia, and (d) to evaluate the sensitivity of oral iron load in the investigation of intestinal function. To accomplish these goals, 71 HIV-infected symptomatic children were enrolled. Iron serum values were determined before and after oral load with ferrous sulfate. The correlation between basal and post-load iron levels was evaluated by linear regression. Xylose level after oral load, fecal fat, and fecal alpha 1-antitrypsin concentration were also determined. Iron deficiency was detected in 48% of patients, and it was significantly associated with intestinal iron malabsorption. Sugar malabsorption, steatorrhea, and fecal protein loss were detected in 26, 36, and 17% of patients, respectively. Low hemoglobin levels were detected in 66% of patients. The majority of children with iron deficiency also had anemia. Preliminary data showed that oral iron administration was sufficient for raising hemoglobin in children with normal iron absorption, whereas parenteral administration was required in those with iron malabsorption. We conclude that (a) iron deficiency is a major feature of pediatric HIV infection, (b) it is related to intestinal malabsorption, and (c) it contributes to anemia. Finally, oral iron load is a sensitive test for investigating intestinal function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Ferrous Compounds / therapeutic use
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Iron Deficiencies*
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / complications
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / virology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Xylose / blood
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin / analysis


  • Ferrous Compounds
  • Hemoglobins
  • Lipids
  • alpha 1-Antitrypsin
  • ferrous sulfate
  • Xylose