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Haemoglobin thresholds to define anaemia from age 6 months to 65 years: estimates from international data sources.

Lancet Haematology 2024 Februrary 30
BACKGROUND: Detection of anaemia is crucial for clinical medicine and public health. Current WHO anaemia definitions are based on statistical thresholds (fifth centiles) set more than 50 years ago. We sought to establish evidence for the statistical haemoglobin thresholds for anaemia that can be applied globally and inform WHO and clinical guidelines.

METHODS: In this analysis we identified international data sources from populations in the USA, England, Australia, China, the Netherlands, Canada, Ecuador, and Bangladesh with sufficient clinical and laboratory information collected between 1998 and 2020 to obtain a healthy reference sample. Individuals with clinical or biochemical evidence of a condition that could reduce haemoglobin concentrations were excluded. We estimated haemoglobin thresholds (ie, 5th centiles) for children aged 6-23 months, 24-59 months, 5-11 years, and 12-17 years, and adults aged 18-65 years (including during pregnancy) for individual datasets and pooled across data sources. We also collated findings from three large-scale genetic studies to summarise genetic variants affecting haemoglobin concentrations in different ancestral populations.

FINDINGS: We identified eight data sources comprising 18 individual datasets that were eligible for inclusion in the analysis. In pooled analyses, the haemoglobin fifth centile was 104·4 g/L (90% CI 103·5-105·3) in 924 children aged 6-23 months, 110·2 g/L (109·5-110·9) in 1874 children aged 24-59 months, and 114·4 g/L (113·6-115·2) in 1839 children aged 5-11 years. Values diverged by sex in adolescents and adults. In pooled analyses, the fifth centile was 122·2 g/L (90% CI 121·3-123·1) in 1741 female adolescents aged 12-17 years and 128·2 g/L (126·4-130·0) in 1103 male adolescents aged 12-17 years. In pooled analyses of adults aged 18-65 years, the fifth centile was 119·7 g/L (90% CI 119·1-120·3) in 3640 non-pregnant females and 134·9 g/L (134·2-135·6) in 2377 males. Fifth centiles in pregnancy were 110·3 g/L (90% CI 109·5-111·0) in the first trimester (n=772) and 105·9 g/L (104·0-107·7) in the second trimester (n=111), with insufficient data for analysis in the third trimester. There were insufficient data for adults older than 65 years. We did not identify ancestry-specific high prevalence of non-clinically relevant genetic variants that influence haemoglobin concentrations.

INTERPRETATION: Our results enable global harmonisation of clinical and public health haemoglobin thresholds for diagnosis of anaemia. Haemoglobin thresholds are similar between sexes until adolescence, after which males have higher thresholds than females. We did not find any evidence that thresholds should differ between people of differering ancestries.

FUNDING: World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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