Unexplained tiredness is common in young women, say doctors. Research in this week's British Medical Journal suggests that non-anaemic women with fatigue may benefit from taking an iron supplement.
The study took place at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and involved 136 women aged 18 to 55 who consulted a doctor with fatigue, but who were not anaemic. The women were divided into two groups. One group took a daily iron supplement while the other took a placebo pill for four weeks.
After one month, the researchers recorded a decrease in the level of fatigue by 29 per cent in the iron group compared with 13 per cent in the placebo group.
The study authors claim this is the first trial in women of childbearing age to show that iron supplements could have an effect on fatigue in the absence of anaemia. Although this is contested by Sudhir Kumar, a consultant neurologist from the Department of Neurological Sciences, Christian Medical College Hospital, India, in a rapid response letter also published in the BMJ.
The authors add that the effect may, however, be restricted to women with low or borderline concentrations of iron in their blood. Subgroups analysis showed that only women with ferritin concentrations 50 µg/l improved with oral supplementation.
Identifying iron deficiency without anaemia as a potential cause of fatigue is important, say the authors. It may avoid symptoms being wrongly attributed to emotional causes or life stressors and thereby reduce unnecessary use of healthcare resources. They also conclude that instituting iron therapy early may also improve quality of life.
Full details of the study can be found in this week's issue of the BMJ.