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Sideroblastic Anemia

Sideroblastic Anemia


Sideroblastic anemia is a term used to describe a group of rare blood disorders characterized by the bone marrow's inability to manufacture normal red blood cells.


Named for the Greek words for iron and germ, sideroblastic anemia is one of the principal types of iron-utilization anemia. Abnormal, iron-saturated red cells are present in the blood of people who have this disease. Although the iron circulates normally from the plasma to the bone marrow, where new red blood cells are created, it is not properly incorporated into new red blood cells.

Sideroblastic anemia can be inherited, but the disease is usually acquired as a result of illness or exposure to toxic substances.

Sideroblastic anemia is a disease of adults.

Causes and symptoms

The cause of sideroblastic anemia cannot always be identified. Drug toxicity, alcohol abuse, and lead poisoning are common causes of this condition.

Sideroblastic anemia is also associated with:

  • leukemia
  • lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands)
  • myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow)
  • rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases

Symptoms of sideroblastic anemia are the same as symptoms of the disease that causes the condition, as well as anemia


Possible complications of sideroblastic anemia include:

  • congestive heart failure
  • diabetes mellitus
  • enlargement of the liver and spleen
  • formation of liver nodules and scar tissue
  • irregular heartbeat
  • recurring inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart
  • secondary hypopituitarism (dwarfism)
  • skin darkening
  • underactivity of the thyroid gland


Blood tests are used to examine the appearance and other characteristics of red cells and to measure the amount of iron in the blood. Bone marrow biopsy is also used.


Acquired sideroblastic anemia may be cured when the condition that causes it is treated or removed.

If the cause of a patient's anemia cannot be determined, blood transfusions may be necessary. Medications are prescribed to stimulate excretion or excess iron that accumulates as a result of these transfusions.

In rare instances, treatment with oral pyridoxine (a B-complex vitamin) benefits patients whose sideroblastic anemia was present at birth. This treatment improves the condition of some patients but does not cure the anemia.


Sideroblastic anemia of unknown origin may lead to leukemia. It may take as long as 10 years for this disease progression to take place.



Leukemia Society of America, Inc. 600 Third Ave., New York, NY 10016. (800) 955 4572.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, MD 20824-0105. (301) 251-1222.

National Organization for Rare Disorders. P.O. Box 8923, New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923. (800) 999-6673.

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