BACKGROUND: Iron depletion or deficiency in blood donors frequently results in deferrals for low hemoglobin (Hb), yet blood centers remain reluctant to dispense iron replacement therapy to donors.

STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: During a 39-month period, 1236 blood donors deferred for a Hb level of less than 12.5 g/dL and 400 nondeferred control donors underwent health history screening and laboratory testing (complete blood counts, iron studies). Iron depletion and deficiency were defined as a ferritin level of 9 to 19 and less than 9 µg/L in females and 18 to 29 and less than 18 µg/L in males. Deferred donors and iron-deficient control donors were given a 60-pack of 325-mg ferrous sulfate tablets and instructed to take one tablet daily. Another 60-pack was dispensed at all subsequent visits.

RESULTS: In the low-Hb group, 30 and 23% of females and 8 and 53% of males had iron depletion or deficiency, respectively, compared with 29 and 10% of females and 18 and 21% of males in the control group. Iron-depleted or -deficient donors taking iron showed normalization of iron-related laboratory parameters, even as they continued to donate. Compliance with oral iron was 68%. Adverse gastrointestinal effects occurred in 21% of donors. The study identified 13 donors with serious medical conditions, including eight with gastrointestinal bleeding. No donors had malignancies or hemochromatosis.

CONCLUSION: Iron depletion or deficiency was found in 53% of female and 61% of male low-Hb donors and in 39% of female and male control donors. Routine administration of iron replacement therapy is safe and effective and prevents the development of iron depletion and deficiency in blood donors.