Objective: The cause of iron deficiency anemia (IDA) in premenopausal women is often presumed to be menstrual blood loss. The purpose of this study was to determine the diagnostic value of a comprehensive gynecological and gastrointestinal evaluation in premenopausal women with IDA.
Methods: Nineteen premenopausal, nonpregnant women older than 18 yr of age with IDA defined by a hemoglobin < 12 gm/dl with serum ferritin < 10 ng/ml participated in the study. Evaluations included directed history and physical examination by a specialist in gynecology and a subspecialist in gastroenterology, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, colonoscopy, upper gastrointestinal radiography with small bowel follow-through, antiendomysial antibody, and fecal occult blood tests.
Results: Seven of 19 (37%) premenopausal women with IDA were diagnosed to have a gynecological cause of anemia by a specialist in that field. Although only four of these seven patients had digestive complaints, all but one (86%) were discovered to have gastrointestinal disease by upper endoscopy; findings were duodenal ulcer and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) gastritis (one), esophagitis and H. pylori gastritis (one), erosive esophagitis (one), gastric arteriovenous malformations (one), and nodular/erosive H. pylori gastritis (two). Fecal occult blood testing was positive in only two (29%) subjects; upper endoscopy revealed erosive esophagitis and gastric arteriovenous malformations. Twelve of the 19 (63%) premenopausal women with IDA were not diagnosed to have a gynecological source of anemia by a specialist in that field. Fecal occult blood testing was negative among all women tested and the only digestive complaint was heartburn (pyrosis) in seven. Each was identified to have esophagitis, duodenal ulcer, or gastritis by upper endoscopy. Colonoscopic examination of the 12 subjects without gynecologic etiology for IDA revealed pan colitis (one), diverticulosis (one), diverticulosis and melanosis coli (one), hyperplastic polyps (one), and nodular lymphoid aggregates (one).
Conclusions: Significant upper gastrointestinal disease is identifiable among most premenopausal women with IDA (18 of 19 or 95%), even when careful evaluation by a specialist in gynecology suggests a gynecological source. Upper endoscopy should be considered in the evaluation of all premenopausal women with IDA expressing digestive complaints or in those with IDA refractory to iron supplementation. Lower endoscopic examination may be reserved for those women with symptoms or signs suggestive of colorectal disorders.