July 27, 2009 / 9:21 PM / 11 years ago

Low blood count ups death risk in elderly people

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New research indicates that low red blood cell blood counts, regardless of other diseases that might be present, is a risk factor for death in very elderly individuals. In the study, anemia was associated with a twofold increased risk of death during follow-up.

Prior reports have linked low red blood cell counts, also known as anemia, with death, but it was unclear if this was simply due to the chronic diseases that often accompany anemia or the anemia itself, Wendy P. J. den Elzen and colleagues, from Leiden University Medical Center, the Netherlands, note in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Red blood cells carry oxygen around the bloodstream, from the lungs to the body’s tissues.

The researchers analyzed data from 562 subjects who were at least 85 years of age. Just more than a quarter of subjects had anemia at baseline, and another quarter developed it during the five years of follow-up.

Anemia was linked to an increased risk of death during follow-up, and was also associated with increased difficulties with activities of daily living.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. A. Mark Clarfield, from McGill University, Montreal, and Ora Paltiel, from Hadassah-Hebrew University, Jerusalem, comment that further research is needed to determine if anemia actually causes increased mortality and to determine if treating anemia in very elderly people improves survival and functional outcomes.

SOURCE: Canadian Medical Association Journal, July 27th online issue, 2009.

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