Low hemoglobin means high risk for mobility problems in elderly women

"Mild anemia in elderly women has often been dismissed as 'innocent', but it might be a significant health problem." Paulo H.M. Chaves, M.D., Ph.D.

The amount of oxygen-carrying hemoglobin circulating in the blood of older women could have an impact on the risk for mobility problems, Johns Hopkins physicians have found.

Hemoglobin levels of 12 grams per deciliter to 16 grams per deciliter have long been considered normal by physicians, but a Hopkins study of more than 600 women in their 70s indicates that at a "low-normal" value of 12 g/dL, these women were as much as 1.5 times as likely to have difficulty performing daily tasks. The report is published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"The 12 g/dL criteria widely used by physicians to define anemia in older women needs serious scrutiny," says Paulo H.M. Chaves, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at Hopkins. "Mild anemia in elderly women has often been dismissed as 'innocent', but it might be a significant health problem."

Anemia, a condition characterized by low levels of red blood cell mass, has been recognized as a major geriatric syndrome, affecting up to 32 percent of older women, Chaves says. Among older adults, it is often a marker of chronic diseases and can cause symptoms including fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness. Currently, physicians recommend their patients take some combination of iron, folate and vitamin B12 supplements for anemia associated with nutritional deficiencies. However, there is no set treatment for anemia of chronic disease.

An estimated 35 percent of women ages 70 to 80 have a hard time with general mobility tasks like walking a few blocks, climbing a flight of stairs or doing heavy housework, Chaves says: "When they have difficulty, they become more sedentary. They often lose their independence and develop substantial social an

Contact: Karen Blum
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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