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Introduction

Anaemia is one of the most common presenting complaints to general practice. One of several ways in which anaemias can be classified, is by red cell size. As such, anaemias can be said to be:

  • Microcytic¬†(small RBCs)
  • Normocytic¬†(RBC size within the normal range)
  • Macrocytic¬†(large RBCs)

Differentiating the cause of microcytic anaemias is important because the treatment can be different. The most common cause is iron deficiency anaemia Рwhich itself can have many causes Рbut it is also important to consider anaemia of chronic disease and the haemoglobinopathies Рsuch as thalassaemia Рespecially in iron deficiency presenting in children.

History

  • Diet history – particularly if diet is low in iron
    • In children – also ask about cow’s milk intake (should be <500mls per day)
    • Cow’s milk itself doesn’t cause iron deficiency, but children who drink more than 500mls / day tend to eat less food and thus are at risk of iron deficiency
    • Also – intake of java bean / broad beans – can precipitate haemolysis in G6PD deficiency
  • Family history
  • History of blood loss
    • Menorrhagia in females
    • GI bleeding – ask about stool colour, haemorrhoids
      • Be aware that the bleeding is often occult – consider faecal occult blood test

Examination

  • Pallor
  • Pale conjunctive
  • Tachycardia
  • SOB – especially on exertion
  • Lethargy
  • Poor concentration
  • Weakness
  • Heart failure
  • Failure to thrive (in children)

Investigations

  • FBC – Hb <90 g/L is particularly significant
    • Microcytosis (small RBCs)
  • Iron studies
    • If normal, but patient has microcytic anaemia, request Hb electrophoresis
    • Elevated HbA2 >3.5% (+/- elevated HbF) suggests beta thalassaemia
    • Alpha thalassaemia requires genetic testing for diagnosis
Investigation pathway for microcytic anaemia

Investigation pathway for microcytic anaemia. Note: it may not always be indicated to perform Alpha Thalassaemia genetic testing Рthis decision is made on the basis of FHx, and the history of the patient Рe.g. if there is no FHx of thalassaemia, and there are reasons for anaemia of chronic disease, this differentiation may be made on clinical grounds.

Red flags

Consider urgent hospital admission for anybody with:

  • Hb <70g/L (local policies may vary with a cut-off of 60-80g/L for transfusion)
  • Tachycardia
  • Murmur
  • Signs of heart failure
    • Signs of haemolysis, dark urine, jaundice
  • Co-existing thrmobocytopaenia or neutropenia
    • May indicate malignancy

Microcytic anaemia in children

  • Occurs in 8% of all children in Australia
  • The most common cause of anaemia in children
  • The reference range for children is different from adults:
    • 2 months – 90 g/L
    • 2-6 months – 95 g/L
    • 6-24 months – 105 g/L
    • 2-11 years – 115 g/L
    • 12+ – 120g/L (female) and 130g/L (male)
  • Differentials in children
    • Iron deficiency
    • Thalassaemia
    • G6PD deficiency

References

  • Murtagh‚Äôs General Practice. 6th Ed. (2015) John Murtagh, Jill Rosenblatt
  • Oxford Handbook of General Practice. 3rd Ed. (2010) Simon, C., Everitt, H., van Drop, F.
  • Beers, MH., Porter RS., Jones, TV., Kaplan JL., Berkwits, M. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy
  • Anaemia - RCH

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