Feature Article

Iron deficiency in adolescent girls

Vera E Schlumbom, Jenny A O’Dea, Michael R Kohn



Iron deficiency is the most widespread nutrient deficiency in Australia and is a common cause of anaemia in Western countries.1,2 Adolescent girls are at risk. This article summarises current knowledge about iron metabolism, iron deficiency, and methods of investigating iron status, as well as prevention and treatment strategies for female adolescents.

Key Points

  • Iron deficiency is common in adolescent girls.
  • Risk factors include primarily blood losses with menstruation, followed by low dietary intake and increased demand due to growth.
  • Laboratory measures to investigate iron deficiency include blood count and film, serum ferritin, and transferrin saturation; serum iron should not be used as a single parameter. For reliable interpretation, it is advisable to take blood when the patient is in a noninfectious state.
  • In adolescent females, iron deficiency is considered present when the serum ferritin level is less than 12 micrograms/L and transferrin saturation is less than 16%. Additionally, in iron deficiency anaemia, the serum haemoglobin level is less than 120 g/L.
  • The management of iron deficiency in adolescent girls involves menstrual regulation, a balanced diet and, in the case of anaemia, iron supplementation.
  • The repletion of diminished iron stores requires months rather than weeks of iron therapy.