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Australian clinicians leading iron deficiency research

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People with iron deficiency are at increased risk of chronic illness, heart failure, poor foetal development and reduced cognitive function and depression, a pioneering clinical study involving Australian researchers shows.

Research centres in Adelaide and Hobart are part of a world-first international clinical study looking at the treatment of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia in pregnancy.

Lead researcher Dr Bernard Froessler from the University of Adelaide said that iron deficiency has become increasingly common among pregnant women in recent years.

“There is plenty of evidence showing iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia has a very negative impact on a woman and her developing foetus, with a higher risk of mothers needing a blood transfusion during birth, premature birth, babies born smaller and often underdeveloped, as well as [implications for] the future development of the child,” Dr Froessler said.

“We are hoping that by treating iron deficiency in the mother, we can benefit both her and the child.”

Professor Andrew Sindone and his team from Concord Hospital are investigating the link between iron deficiency and heart failure as part of the Effect of Ferric Carboxymaltose on Exercise Capacity in Patients With Iron Deficiency and Chronic Heart Failure (EFFECT-HF) study.

Professor Sindone said the relationship between iron deficiency and heart failure was significant.

“We don’t understand whether iron deficiency is a marker of heart failure patients or causing the problem, but we have found it increases patient mortality rates and decreases their quality of life,” Professor Sindone said.

Up to one in four Australian women and one in six Australian men are iron deficient, according to Associate Professor Al Khalafallah from Launceston Hospital. He said iron deficiency and iron anaemia were widespread and underdiagnosed in Australia.

“This condition is costing Australians and our economy millions of dollars each year, including in lost productivity, decreased educational performance, prolonged stays in hospital after surgery, increased morbidity and potential mortality,” Associate Professor Khalafallah said.

“We know that correcting iron deficiency alone can be very beneficial and, with new treatments available, particularly intravenous iron, this is having a huge effect on how iron deficiency is being treated in chronically ill patients, for elective surgery and in pregnancy.”