Clinical consequences of acquired transfusional iron overload in adults
We assessed the clinical sequelae of transfusional iron overload in 15 nonthalassemic adults (40 to 71 years of age) with anemias requiring transfusions. Iron loading had been present for less than four years in 14 patients. The number of units of blood transfused ranged from 60 to 210 (mean, 120). Liver-biopsy specimens in 10 patients contained seven to 26 times the normal amount of iron and typically showed focal portal fibrosis. Left ventricular cardiac function was impaired in only the most heavily transfused patients or in those with coexisting coronary-artery disease, All patients had glucose intolerance associated with significantly reduced insulin output, compared with controls (P < 0.01). Pituitary reserve of ACTH was limited in 10 of 12 patients, and that of gonadotropin in five of 13. We conclude that widespread subclinical organ dysfunction can result from transfusional iron overload developing in adulthood. The pattern of organ involvement resembles that encountered in idiopathic hemochromatosis.