A group of 28 patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were severely anaemic were investigated for iron deficiency. On the basis of bone marrow studies, the patients were divided into two groups, those with and those without signs of stainable iron in the marrow. This grouping did not distinguish between the severity of their rheumatoid arthritis measured by clinical parameters. Measurement of the red cell count and biochemical parameters in the peripheral blood showed a statistical difference in red cell size, haemoglobin content, and iron binding capacity between the two groups. The statistical variation of these parameters, however, did not allow these measurements to predict bone marrow iron deficiency in any subject. Investigation of the upper gastrointestinal tract by endoscopy showed that acute macroscopic lesions were infrequently associated with anaemia. It was concluded that anaemia in association with rheumatoid arthritis may mimic iron deficiency anaemia, and that simple investigations of the peripheral blood do not accurately show the iron status of the reticuloendothelial system in the presence of a chronic inflammatory disease. For the investigation of severe anaemia in rheumatoid arthritis, bone marrow assessment of iron status should be performed as the initial investigation. In addition, iron deficient patients require investigation of the lower and the upper gastrointestinal tract.
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