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BACKGROUND: Iron deficiency is a significant cause of deferral in people wishing to donate blood. If iron removed from the body through blood donation is not replaced, then donors may become iron deficient. All donors are screened at each visit for low haemoglobin (Hb) levels. However, some deferred blood donors do not return to donate. Deferred first-time donors are even less likely to return. Interventions that reduce the risk of provoking iron deficiency and anaemia in blood donors will therefore increase the number of blood donations. Currently, iron supplementation for blood donors is not a standard of care in many blood services. A systematic review is required to answer specific questions regarding the efficacy and safety of iron supplementation in blood donors. OBJECTIVES: To assess the efficacy and safety of iron supplementation to reduce deferral, iron deficiency and/or anaemia in blood donors. SEARCH METHODS: We ran the search on 18 November 2013. We searched Cochrane Injuries Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, PubMed, MEDLINE (OvidSP), EMBASE (OvidSP), CINAHL (EBSCO Host) and six other databases. We also searched clinical trials registers and screened guidelines reference lists. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing iron supplementation versus placebo or control, oral versus parenteral iron supplementation, iron supplementation versus iron-rich food supplements, and different doses, treatment durations and preparations of iron supplementation in healthy blood donors. Autologous blood donors were excluded. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We combined data using random-effects meta-analyses. We evaluated heterogeneity using the I(2) statistic; we explored considerable heterogeneity (I(2) > 75%) in subgroup analyses. We carried out sensitivity analyses to assess the impact of trial quality on the results. MAIN RESULTS: Thirty RCTs (4704 participants) met the eligibility criteria, including 19 comparisons of iron supplementation and placebo or control; one comparison of oral and parenteral iron supplementation; four comparisons of different doses of iron supplementation; one comparison of different treatment durations of iron supplementation; and 12 comparisons of different iron supplementation preparations.Many studies were of low or uncertain methodological quality and therefore at high or uncertain risk of bias. We therefore rated the quality of the evidence for our outcomes as moderate. There was a statistically significant reduction in deferral due to low haemoglobin in donors who received iron supplementation compared with donors who received no iron supplementation, both at the first donation visit after commencement of iron supplementation (risk ratio (RR) 0.34; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.21 to 0.55; four studies; 1194 participants; P value < 0.0001) and at subsequent donations (RR 0.25; 95% CI 0.15 to 0.41; three studies; 793 participants; P value < 0.00001). Supplementation also resulted in significantly higher haemoglobin levels (mean difference (MD) 2.36 g/L; 95% CI 0.06 to 4.66; eight studies; 847 participants, P value =0.04), and iron stores, including serum ferritin (MD 13.98 ng/mL; 95% CI 8.92 to 19.03; five studies; 640 participants; P value < 0.00001) and transferrin saturation (MD 3.91%; 95% CI 2.02 to 5.80; four studies; 344 participants; P value < 0.0001) prior to further donation. The differences were maintained after subsequent donation(s).Adverse effects were widely reported and were more frequent in donors who received iron supplementation (RR 1.60; 95% CI 1.23 to 2.07; four studies; 1748 participants; P value = 0.0005). Adverse effects included constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and taste disturbances, and some participants stopped treatment due to side effects. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is moderate quality evidence that rates of donor deferral due to low haemoglobin are considerably less in those taking iron supplements compared with those without iron supplementation, both at the first donation visit and at subsequent donation. Iron-supplemented donors also show elevated haemoglobin and iron stores. These beneficial effects are balanced by more frequent adverse events in donors who receive iron supplementation than in those who do not; this is likely to limit acceptability and compliance. The long-term effects of iron supplementation without measurement of iron stores are unknown. These considerations are likely to preclude widespread use of iron supplementation by tablets. Blood services may consider targeted use of supplementation in those at greatest risk of iron deficiency, personalised donation intervals and providing dietary advice.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Publication Date



Anemia, Iron-Deficiency, Blood Donors, Constipation, Female, Ferritins, Hemoglobin A, Humans, Iron, Iron, Dietary, Male, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Sex Factors