OBJECTIVE: To describe the incidence, cause, and course of anaemia in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). METHODS: Medical records of 225 patients who received a diagnosis of RA between 1990 and 1992 were reviewed longitudinally for mention of anaemia. Anaemia was classified as anaemia of chronic disease if ferritin concentrations reflected adequate body iron stores. Among iron depleted anaemic patients, iron deficiency anaemia was identified using the response to iron supplementation. RESULTS: Anaemia developed in 64% of the patients, mostly within 18 months of follow up, but disappeared again in 54% of those patients. The prevalence of anaemia varied from 39% to 53% throughout follow up. Iron depletion was found in 38% of anaemic patients; 40% of them did not recover from their anaemia after iron supplementation and were classified as having anaemia of chronic disease. Anaemia of chronic disease thus caused 77% and iron deficiency anaemia 23% of observed anaemia. Recovery from anaemia occurred in 42% of the patients with anaemia of chronic disease and in 72% of iron depleted patients after iron supplementation. Anaemic patients, particularly those with anaemia of chronic disease, had a significantly greater number of the American College of Rheumatism criteria for RA, significantly more erosive joint damage, and significantly increased concentrations of serum rheumatoid factor than patients without anaemia. CONCLUSION: Anaemia appeared as a frequent and dynamic manifestation. Recovery and recurrence of anaemia was observed throughout follow up, leading to a longstanding and relatively high prevalence of the condition. Iron deficiency was diagnosed frequently and follow up revealed a considerable overlap with anaemia of chronic disease, making this the most important cause of anaemia in RA. Recovery from anaemia occurred more frequently in iron depleted anaemic patients than in those with anaemia of chronic disease. Anaemic patients, particularly those with anaemia of chronic disease, seemed to have a more serious course of their RA compared with non-anaemic patients.
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