BGS |Iron deficiency anaemia (IDA)

This is a really useful, practical guideline.

There are 2 excellent flow-charts, which I personally am going to print out and carry around, summarising who should be investigated and also how to treat.

In summary of the most important bits:

Any degree of anaemia warrants investigation. The worse the anaemia, the more likely that there is an underlying serious cause. Current 2ww cut-offs will miss a lot of cancers, so they suggest referring men with Hb < 12 and post-menopausal women with Hb < 10 urgently (if not 2ww). If they have symptoms, refer appropriately.


  • FOB – in the investigation of IDA they are neither specific nor sensitive enough.
  • PR unless there are rectal symptoms (eg tenesmus / bleeding) as it rarely shows anything up.
  • Assume it is due to warfarin or aspirin – studies show the same rates of malignancy in these patients with IDA.

Who and how to investigate

  • All people (including pre-menopausal and pregnant women):
    • Coeliac screen
    • Dipstix for haematuria (1% will have urological malignancy)
  • All males and postmenopausal women:
    • OGD and colonoscopy – unless there is marked overt non-GI loss. Consider even if coeliac screen is positive, especially if they are > 50, have marked anaemia, or have a significant family history (eg 1 1st deg relative < 50 or 2 1st deg relatives at any age).
  • Pre-menopausal women:
    • Only need further investigation considering if they are > 50, have GI symptoms, have a significant family history OR if they have persistent IDA despite adequate Fe supplementation, correction of menorrhagia, adequate diet and are not donating blood.
  • Certain ethnic groups:
    • Do electrophoresis if appropriate before other investigations

How to treat:

Fe supplementation with monthly FBC until corrected. Then continue for a further 3 months to build up stores. After this, check every 3m for 1 yr, then again a year later. Use further Fe supplementation if needed. Only need to refer back for further investigations if you can’t maintain their levels.

Louise Hudman

I'm a freelance GP locum in Winchester & Southampton locum chambers, and Pallant Medical Chambers Clinical Guidelines Lead Partner.

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