A 55-year-old man is being evaluated for constipation. There is no history of prior gastrectomy or of upper GI symptoms. Hemoglobin is 10 g/dL, mean corpuscular volume (MCV) is 72 fL, serum iron is 4 µg/dL (normal 50-150 µg/dL), iron-binding capacity is 450 µg/dL (normal 250-370 µg/dL), saturation is 1% (normal 20%-45%), and ferritin is 10 µg/L (normal 15-400 µg/L).
Which of the following is the best next step in the evaluation of this patient’s anemia?A. Red blood cell folate
The patient has a microcytic anemia. A low serum iron, low ferritin, and high iron-binding capacity all suggest iron-deficiency anemia. Most iron-deficiency anemia is explained by blood loss. The patient’s symptoms of constipation point to blood loss from the lower GI tract. Colonoscopy would be the highest-yield procedure. Barium enema misses 50% of polyps and a significant minority of colon cancers. Even patients without GI symptoms who have no obvious explanation (such as menstrual blood loss or multiple prior pregnancies in women) for their iron deficiency should be worked up for GI blood loss. Folate deficiency presents as a megaloblastic anemia with macrocytosis (large, oval-shaped red cells) and hypersegmentation of the polymorpho-nuclear leukocytes. Lead poisoning can cause a microcytic hypochromic anemia, but this would not be associated with the abnormal iron studies and low ferritin seen in this patient. Basophilic stippling or target cells seen on the peripheral blood smear would be important clues to the presence of lead poisoning. Although a bone marrow examination will prove the diagnosis by the absence of stainable iron in the marrow, the diagnosis of iron deficiency is clear from the serum studies. Thalassemia (diagnosed by hemoglobin electrophoresis) is not associated with abnormal iron studies. The most important issue is now to find the source of the iron loss.