The incidence of ascorbic acid (AA) deficiency and its effect on serum ferritin concentration relative to body iron stores was studied in 61 unchelated patients with beta-thalassaemia major. Thirty-nine (64%) of patients had subnormal leucocyte ascorbate concentrations without clinical evidence of scurvy. The lowest leucocyte ascorbate concentrations tended to occur in the most transfused patients. No correlation was found between the units transfused and serum ferritin concentration in the AA-deficient patients but a close correlation (r = +0.82; p less than 0.005) existed for the AA-replete group. Similarly a close correlation (r = +0.77; p less than 0.005) was obtained between liver iron concentration and serum ferritin in AA-replete patients but only a weak correlation (r = +0.385; p less than 0.025) existed for the AA-deficient group. When AA-deficient patients were treated with ascorbic acid, serum iron and percentage saturation of iron binding capacity rose significantly; serum ferritin rose in 13 of 21 patients despite the simultaneous commencement of desferrioxamine therapy. In contrast all three measurements tended to fall in AA-replete patients with ascorbic acid and desferrioxamine therapy. Thus, AA deficiency is commonly present in beta-thalassaemia patients with iron overload and may give rise to inappropriate serum ferritin concentrations in relation to body iron stores.
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