Thirty six patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (25 with anaemia) were studied to establish the role of iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid deficiency, erythropoietin responsiveness, and iron absorption in the diagnosis and pathogenesis of anaemia in RA. Iron deficiency, assessed by stainable bone marrow iron content, occurred in 13/25 (52%), vitamin B12 deficiency in 7/24 (29%), and folic acid deficiency in 5/24 (21%) of the anaemic patients. Only 8/25 (32%) had just one type of anaemia. The iron deficiency of anaemia of chronic disease (ACD) was distinguished by ferritin concentration, which was higher in that group. Mean cell volume (MCV) and mean cell haemoglobin (MCH) were lower in both anaemic groups, but most pronounced in iron deficient patients. Folic acid, and especially vitamin B12 deficiency, masked iron deficiency by increasing the MCV and MCH. Iron absorption tended to be highest in iron deficiency and lowest in ACD, suggesting that decreased iron absorption is not a cause of ACD in RA. No specific causes were found for vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency. Haemoglobin concentration was negatively correlated with erythrocyte sedimentation rate in the group with ACD. Erythropoietin response was lower in ACD than in iron deficient patients. It was concluded that generally more than one type of anaemia is present simultaneously in anaemic patients with RA. The diagnosis of each type may be masked by another. Studies on pathogenesis of the anaemia are difficult as deficiencies generally coexist with ACD. Disease activity and, possibly, erythropoietin responsiveness are major factors in ACD pathogenesis.
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