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Jul 01, 2014

Low Iron Spells Trouble for Heart Failure Patients

Study finds that iron deficiency drastically increases mortality risk among patients with acute heart failure.

Low iron drastically increases risk of death for patients with heart failure, according to a study recently published in the European Heart Journal.

Low iron level, referred to as iron deficiency, is the most common nutritional deficiency in the United States. Not only can low iron cause symptoms like feeling tired and weak, it can also lead to complications for patients with existing heart conditions. Since iron deficiency is especially common among heart failure patients, researchers wondered how iron levels affect outcomes for patients.

Conducted in two Polish cardiology centers, this study included 165 patients treated for acute heart failure. Unlike chronic heart failure, which is a long-term condition, acute heart failure happens suddenly and requires hospitalization. During each patient’s hospital stay, researchers ran blood tests to measure iron levels and then monitored the subject’s health for a year.

After analysis, investigators found that patients with an iron deficiency had a significantly greater risk of death than those with normal iron levels. In fact, among the 33 deaths that occurred during the year-long follow-up, there were virtually no deaths among patients with healthy iron levels.

Although the difference in mortality risk among patients with low vs. normal iron levels was profound, authors point out the study’s silver lining. Unlike other conditions, iron deficiency can usually be corrected with treatment. By testing iron levels and addressing iron deficiencies, it’s possible that doctors can work closely with patients to reduce risk of complications from acute heart failure. With future research, investigators hope to identify ways to address iron deficiencies in patients with acute heart failure and improve outcomes.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is heart failure?

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Although there is no cure for heart failure, treatments such as ACE inhibitors and ARBs can help improve outcomes as well as quality of life.
  • What is iron and why do we need it?
  • Iron is an essential mineral needed by our bodies. Iron is used in many cell functions and having too little iron, called an iron deficiency, can have a negative impact on our health. Not only can iron deficiencies cause symptoms such as feeling tired or weak and decreased immune function, it can cause complications for patients with heart conditions. That’s why it’s important to screen for iron, especially among patients at high risk for iron deficiency.

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