Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia and is a condition in which the blood lacks healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to body tissues.
As the name suggests, iron deficiency anemia is associated with iron deficiency. Without enough iron, your body can’t make enough of the oxygen-carrying substance (hemoglobin) in your red blood cells. As a result, iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling tired and short of breath.
You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplements. Sometimes additional tests and treatment are needed for iron deficiency anemia, especially if your doctor suspects you have internal bleeding.
At first, iron deficiency anemia is so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes iron deficient and the anemia progresses, the signs and symptoms intensify.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include:
Chest pain, fast heart rate or shortness of breath
Headache, dizziness, vertigo
Cold hands and feet
Tongue inflammation or pain
Unusual craving for non-nutritive substances such as ice, dirt, starch
Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
When to see a doctor?
See your doctor if you or your child has symptoms that may indicate iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is not a self-diagnosis or treatment. Therefore, rather than self-administering iron supplements, consult a doctor for diagnosis. Overloading your body with iron is dangerous, as excess iron can damage your liver and cause other complications.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and allows red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood around the body.
If you don’t consume enough iron or lose too much iron, your body can’t make enough hemoglobin and iron deficiency anemia will eventually develop.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
Blood loss. Blood contains iron inside red blood cells. So when you bleed, you lose a little bit of iron. Women who have heavy periods are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia because of bleeding during menstruation. Long-term, chronic bleeding in the body, such as from stomach ulcers, hernias, colon polyps, or colon cancer, can cause iron-deficiency anemia. Regular use of pain relievers, especially aspirin, can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
Lack of iron in your diet. Your body regularly gets iron from the food you eat. If you consume too little iron, your body will become iron deficient over time. Examples of iron-rich foods include meat, eggs, green leafy vegetables, and iron-fortified foods. Infants and children need iron through food for proper growth and development.
Inability to absorb iron. Dietary iron is absorbed into the blood in the small intestine. Intestinal disorders such as celiac disease, which affect the ability of the intestine to absorb nutrients from digestible foods, can cause iron deficiency anemia. If part of your small intestine has been surgically removed or bypassed, it may affect your ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
Pregnancy. Without iron supplementation, many pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia because their iron stores not only increase blood volume, but are also a source of hemoglobin for fetal growth.