Definition of Iron Deficiency Based on the Gold Standard of Bone Marrow Iron Staining in Heart Failure Patients

Niels Grote Beverborg, IJsbrand T. Klip, Wouter C. Meijers, Adriaan A. Voors, Eline L. Vegter, Haye H. van der Wal, Dorine W. Swinkels, Joost van Pelt, Andre B. Mulder, Sjoerd K. Bulstra, Edo Vellenga, Massimo A. Mariani, Rudolf A. de Boer, Dirk J. van Veldhuisen, Peter van der Meer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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BACKGROUND: The most commonly used definition of iron deficiency (ID; ferritin <100 ng/mL or ferritin 100-300 ng/mL and transferrin saturation [TSAT] <20%) has not been validated in patients with heart failure (HF). We aimed to define and validate the biomarker-based definition of ID in HF, using bone marrow iron staining as the gold standard. Second, we aimed to assess the prognostic value of the optimized definition.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Bone marrow aspiration with iron staining was performed in 42 patients with HF and a reduced left ventricular ejection fraction (≤45%) undergoing median sternotomy for coronary artery bypass grafting. Patients were mostly male (76%) with mild-to-moderate HF and a mean age of 68±10 years. Bone marrow ID was found in 17 (40%) of the HF patients. The most commonly used definition of ID had a sensitivity of 82% and a specificity of 72%. A definition solely based on TSAT ≤19.8% or serum iron ≤13 µmol/L had a sensitivity of 94% and specificity of 84% and 88%, respectively (P<0.05 compared with the former definition). Subsequently, we assessed the incidence of all-cause mortality in 387 consecutive outpatient HF patients (left ventricular ejection fraction ≤45%). In these patients, TSAT ≤19.8% and serum iron ≤13 µmol/L, and not ferritin, were independently associated with mortality.

CONCLUSIONS: A TSAT ≤19.8% or a serum iron ≤13 µmol/L shows the best performance in selecting patients with ID and identifies HF patients at the highest risk of death. Our findings validate the currently used TSAT cutoff of <20% for the identification of ID in HF patients, but question the diagnostic value of ferritin.

Original languageEnglish
Article number004519
Number of pages14
JournalCirculation-Heart failure
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb-2018


  • bone marrow
  • ferric carboxymaltose
  • ferritin
  • heart failure
  • prognosis
  • transferrin saturation

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