Iron deficiency Anemia is a type of blood disorder that affects red blood cells. This is the most common type of anaemia. It occurs when your body lacks sufficient iron to produce haemoglobin, a substance found in red blood cells that allows them to transport oxygen throughout your body. As a result, iron deficiency can make you feel tired or short of breath. These symptoms emerge gradually. Iron supplements may be prescribed if iron deficiency is diagnosed. Healthcare providers will also ask you questions and perform tests to determine the cause of your iron deficiency.
What effects does iron deficiency anaemia have on my body?
Iron deficiency anaemia symptoms develop gradually. You may have low iron and feel fine at first, or you may have symptoms that are so mild that you are unaware of them. Iron deficiency anaemia, however, can make you feel tired and weak if left untreated. Pale skin and cold hands and feet are possible symptoms. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency can also make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. It can occasionally cause chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath. A lack of iron can cause unusual cravings for non-food items such as ice, dirt, or paper.
What causes iron deficiency anaemia?
Usually, your body absorbs a steady supply of iron from the food you consume. Excess iron is stored in your body so that it can be used to make haemoglobin as needed. Iron deficiency anaemia occurs when your body’s iron stores are depleted faster than they can be replenished or when the flow of iron into your system has slowed. This happens in three stages:
The first stage is the depletion of iron stores. The supply of iron to make new haemoglobin and red blood cells are dwindling, but it hasn’t yet affected your red blood cells.
When low iron stores, the normal process of producing red blood cells is disrupted, and you develop iron-deficient erythropoiesis, also known as latent iron deficiency. The process of creating new red blood cells is known medically as erythropoiesis. Your bone marrow produces red blood cells without enough haemoglobin at this stage.
Third stage: Iron-deficiency anaemia develops when there is insufficient iron to produce haemoglobin for red blood cells. The haemoglobin concentration will fall below the normal range at this point. This is when you may start to notice symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia.
Who is at risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia?
Iron deficiency anaemia can affect almost anyone. Women who have menstrual cycles, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding are more likely to develop iron deficiency anaemia than men or women who have reached menopause. Other groups of people are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia:
Some infants between the ages of 6 and 12 months: Babies are born with iron from the person who carried them through pregnancy. After four to six months, the iron supply runs out. Babies who are exclusively breastfed or consume unfortified formula may not get enough iron.
Children between the ages of one and two years: Young children who consume much cow’s milk may not get enough iron.
Teenagers: Growth spurts can deplete iron reserves more quickly, resulting in iron deficiency.
Adults over 65: Because they eat less, older people may not get as much iron as they need.
People suffer from chronic medical conditions, bone marrow disorders, or autoimmune disorders.
CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS
What is the most common cause of anaemia due to iron deficiency?
The most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia is blood loss. Among the most common reasons are:
Bleeding in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract results in bright red blood or dark, tarry, or sticky stool. Common medical conditions that cause GI tract bleeding include ulcers, polyps, and colon cancer. Some people experience GI tract bleeding after taking aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen regularly.
Your urinary tract is bleeding.
Blood loss as a result of an injury or surgery.
Menstrual cramps are common.
Donation of blood regularly.
Blood tests are performed regularly. This is especially true for infants and small children subjected to numerous blood tests.
What are some other causes of iron deficiency anaemia?
Iron deficiency anaemia can occur when people do not consume enough iron or have conditions that limit the amount of iron their bodies absorb.
What factors make it difficult for my body to absorb iron?
Your body may not absorb iron for a variety of reasons, including:
You have a digestive or intestinal disorder such as celiac disease, autoimmune gastritis, or an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Your stomach is infected with Helicobacter pylori.
You’ve had gastrointestinal surgery, including weight loss surgery, that has made it difficult for your body to absorb enough iron. For example, people who have had gastric bypass surgery or a gastrectomy may develop iron deficiency anaemia.
You have a rare genetic condition that interferes with your body’s ability to absorb iron.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency symptoms appear gradually and may be mild initially, but if not treated, they can worsen. Among the most common iron deficiency symptoms are:
Breathing difficulty (dyspnea).
Pica (a condition in which people crave non-food items like ice, chalk, paint, clay or starch) (a condition in which people desire non-food items like ice, chalk, paint, clay or starch).
Syndrome of restless legs.
What are the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia?
Some common symptoms of this condition include:
Your nails are either brittle or spoon-shaped. This is referred to as koilonychia. Instead of growing flat, your nails appear concave, like spoons.
The corners of your mouth are cracked.
You have fair skin, or it is paler than usual.
Your tongue is aching or sore.
Others notice your hands are cold.
DIAGNOSTIC AND TESTING
How do physicians identify iron deficiency anaemia?
Blood tests are used to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia. If you have iron-deficiency anaemia, your doctor may order additional tests to determine the cause. Your doctor may take the following steps to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia:
They may use a microscope to look at your red blood cells. If you have iron-deficiency anaemia, your red blood cells will be pale instead of bright red and smaller than usual.
They will check the iron levels in your blood.
The amount of transferrin in your blood will be measured. Transferrin is a protein that transports iron.
They will determine the level of ferritin in your blood. Ferritin is an iron-storing protein.
They may suggest a colonoscopy or other testing determine the cause of your iron deficiency.
TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT
How can iron deficiency anaemia be treated?
Iron deficiency can be treated with iron supplements, usually pills but sometimes via IV. Your doctor will try to figure out why you’re iron deficient. People typically have iron-deficiency anaemia because they are losing blood or are not absorbing iron from their diet. Healthcare providers treat iron-deficiency anaemia by diagnosing and, if possible, treating the underlying cause while treating the iron deficiency.
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Will my doctor prescribe iron supplements if I have iron deficiency anaemia?
Everyone’s situation will be unique. Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements to replace iron lost due to excessive bleeding or if you aren’t getting enough iron from food. They may prescribe intravenous (IV) iron supplements if you have a condition that prevents you from absorbing iron.
What are the side effects of iron supplements?
Iron supplements can sometimes cause constipation or make your poop appear dark or black. If you’re experiencing constipation, your healthcare provider can recommend ways to soften it.
How soon will I notice a difference after taking iron supplements?
Iron supplements can take three to six weeks to increase your iron reserves. Your healthcare provider will monitor your iron levels and notify you when they have improved. Even so, they may advise you to take iron supplements for at least six months to allow your body to replenish its iron stores.
How can I lower my chances of developing iron deficiency anaemia?
Most people develop iron deficiency anaemia because they lose blood or do not absorb it from their diet. If you suspect these problems, talk to your doctor about what you can do to avoid iron deficiency anaemia.
I have no underlying medical conditions. What can I do to avoid iron deficiency anaemia?
Eating an iron-rich diet can help lower your risk. Consider the following iron-rich food groups:
Peas, beans, tofu, and tempeh are examples of legumes.
Bread and cereals include whole wheat bread, enriched white bread, rye bread, bran cereals, and wheat cereals.
Spinach, broccoli, string beans, dark leafy greens, potatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes are among the vegetables.
Protein sources include beef, poultry, eggs, liver, and shellfish.
Figs, dates, and raisins are examples of fruits.
I eat vegan or vegetarian food. What can I do to increase my iron intake?
Look for iron-fortified bread and cereals if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Non-meat options for increasing iron intake include beans, tofu, dried fruits, and dark leafy greens. It would help if you considered taking an iron supplement. Consult your doctor about appropriate iron supplements to avoid iron overload.
PROGNOSIS / OUTLOOK
What should I do if I have iron deficiency anaemia?
Iron-deficiency anaemia is typically treated by prescribing iron supplements and suggesting ways to increase iron in your diet. However, iron deficiency anaemia can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition. You could be losing blood, or your body cannot absorb iron. If this is the case, your healthcare provider will concentrate on treating the condition. Your best source of information is your healthcare provider.
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When should I make an appointment with my doctor?
Depending on your situation, you should see your doctor regularly to monitor your iron levels and overall health. You could see your doctor every three months for a year or more.
A message from the Cleveland Clinic
We all have days when our daily responsibilities outweigh our ability to complete tasks. However, if you are experiencing persistent fatigue, consult your healthcare provider. They’ll figure out what’s sucking your energy away. Iron deficiency anaemia symptoms emerge gradually. Iron-deficiency anaemia can lead to serious medical problems if left untreated. Fortunately, most iron-deficiency anaemia patients feel better after taking iron suppl
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