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Clinical outcomes of transfusion-associated iron overload in patients with refractory chronic anemia.

BACKGROUND: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the clinical outcomes of transfusion-associated iron overload in patients with chronic refractory anemia.

METHODS: Clinical manifestations, main organ function, results of computed tomography (CT), endocrine evaluation, and serum ferritin levels were analyzed retrospectively in 13 patients who were transfusion-dependent for more than 1 year (receiving >50 units of red blood cells) to determine the degree of iron overload and efficacy of iron-chelating therapy.

RESULTS: Serum ferritin levels increased to 1,830-5,740 ng/mL in all patients. Ten patients had abnormal liver function. The CT Hounsfield units in the liver increased significantly in eleven patients, and were proportional to their serum ferritin levels. Skin pigmentation, liver dysfunction, and endocrine dysfunction were observed in nine patients with serum ferritin >3,500 ng/mL, eight of whom have since died. Interestingly, serum ferritin levels did not decrease significantly in nine transfusion-dependent patients who had received 15-60 days of iron-chelating therapy.

CONCLUSION: Transfusion-dependent patients may progress to secondary iron overload with organ impairment, which may be fatal in those who are heavily iron-overloaded. The CT Hounsfield unit is a sensitive indicator of iron overload in the liver. Iron chelation therapy should be initiated when serum ferritin is >1,000 ng/mL and continued until it is <1,000 ng/mL in transfusional iron-overloaded patients.

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