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Original Investigation
March 9, 2009

Red Blood Cell Distribution Width and the Risk of Death in Middle-aged and Older Adults

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry, National Institute on Aging, Bethesda, Maryland (Drs Patel and Guralnik), and Clinical Research Branch, National Institute on Aging, Baltimore, Maryland (Drs Ferrucci, Ershler, and Longo).

Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(5):515-523. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.11
Abstract

Background  Red blood cell distribution width (RDW), a component of an electronic complete blood count, is a measure of heterogeneity in the size of circulating erythrocytes. In patients with symptomatic cardiovascular disease (CVD), RDW is associated with mortality. However, it has not been demonstrated that RDW is a predictor of mortality independent of nutritional deficiencies or in the general population.

Methods  Red blood cell distribution width was measured in a national sample of 8175 community-dwelling adults 45 years or older who participated in the 1988-1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; mortality follow-up occurred through December 31, 2000. Deaths from all causes, CVD, cancer, and other causes were examined as a function of RDW.

Results  Higher RDW values were strongly associated with an increased risk of death. Compared with the lowest quintile of RDW, the following were adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for all-cause mortality (and 95% confidence intervals [CIs]): second quintile, HR, 1.1 (95% CI, 0.9-1.3); third quintile, HR, 1.2 (95% CI, 1.0-1.4); fourth quintile, HR, 1.4 (95% CI, 1.2-1.8); and fifth quintile, HR, 2.1 (95% CI, 1.7-2.6). For every 1% increment in RDW, all-cause mortality risk increased by 22% (HR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.15-1.30; P < .001). Even when analyses were restricted to nonanemic participants or to those in the reference range of RDW (11%-15%) without iron, folate, or vitamin B12 deficiency, RDW remained strongly associated with mortality. The prognostic effect of RDW was observed in both middle-aged and older adults for multiple causes of death.

Conclusion  Red blood cell distribution width is a widely available test that is a strong predictor of mortality in the general population of adults 45 years or older.

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