Iron Deficiency Anemia: Sensitivity and Specificity
Introduction: This is anemia caused by low total body iron stores (e.g. from a GI bleed). Gold standard of diagnosis is Prussian Blue staining of a bone marrow biopsy (rarely done). Generally iron deficiency results in a microcytic, hypochromic anemia. The transferrin levels (aka TIBC) are increased, ferritin levels (which measure bone marrow stores) are decreased, and iron saturation is decreased.
In contrast, Anemia of Chronic Disease (inflammation) causes an anemia from poor mobilization of iron stores. These patients have increased iron stores and thus high ferritin (ferritin is also high because it is an acute phase reactant) and usually low transferrin levels.
Ferritin has been shown to be the most accurate test to distinguish these, even in a mixed clinical picture (see the J Gen Intern Med paper).