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Background: Guidelines to treat anaemia with intravenous (IV) iron have focused on elective surgical patients with little attention paid to those undergoing non-elective/emergency surgery. Whilst these patients may experience poor outcomes because of their presenting illness, observational data suggests that untreated anaemia may also be a contributing factor to poor outcomes. We conducted a systematic review to investigate the safety and efficacy of IV iron in patients undergoing non-elective surgery. Methods: We followed a pre-defined review protocol and included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in patients undergoing non-elective surgery who received IV iron. Primary outcomes were all-cause infection and mean difference in haemoglobin (Hb) at follow-up. Secondary outcomes included transfusion requirements, hospital length of stay (LOS), health-related quality of life (HRQoL), mortality and adverse events. Results: Three RCTs (605 participants) were included in this systematic review of which two, in both hip fracture (HF) patients, provided data for meta-analysis. Both of these RCTs were at low risk of bias. We found no evidence of a difference in the risk of infection (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.80, I2 = 9%) or in the Hb concentration at 'short-term' (≤ 7 days) follow-up (mean difference - 0.32 g/L, 95% CI - 3.28 to 2.64, I2 = 37%). IV iron did not reduce the risk of requiring a blood transfusion (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.73 to 1.11, p = 0.46, I2 = 0%), and we observed no difference in mortality, LOS or adverse events. One RCT reported on HRQoL and found no difference between treatment arms. Conclusion: We found no conclusive evidence of an effect of IV iron on clinically important outcomes in patients undergoing non-elective surgery. Further adequately powered trials to evaluate its benefit in emergency surgical specialties with a high burden of anaemia are warranted. Trial registration: This systematic review was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42018096288).

Original publication




Journal article


Perioper Med (Lond)

Publication Date





Anaemia, Iron, Surgery