Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia — a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.
Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and enables the red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout your body.
- Blood loss. Blood contains iron within red blood cells. So if you lose blood, you lose some iron. Women with heavy periods are at risk of iron deficiency anemia because they lose blood during menstruation. Slow, chronic blood loss within the body — such as from a peptic ulcer, a hiatal hernia, a colon polyp or colorectal cancer — can cause iron deficiency anemia. Gastrointestinal bleeding can result from regular use of some over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin.
- A lack of iron in your diet. Your body regularly gets iron from the foods you eat. If you consume too little iron, over time your body can become iron deficient. Examples of iron-rich foods include meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified foods. For proper growth and development, infants and children need iron from their diet, too.
- An inability to absorb iron. Iron from food is absorbed into your bloodstream in your small intestine. An intestinal disorder, such as celiac disease, which affects your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food, can lead to iron deficiency anemia. If part of your small intestine has been bypassed or removed surgically, that may affect your ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
- Pregnancy. Without iron supplementation, iron deficiency anemia occurs in many pregnant women because their iron stores need to serve their own increased blood volume as well as be a source of hemoglobin for the growing fetus.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia
- Extreme fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Cold hands and feet
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
- Brittle nails
- Fast heartbeat
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
- Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
- An uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in your legs (restless legs syndrome)
If you or your child experiences these signs and symptoms that suggest iron deficiency anemia, see your doctor. Iron deficiency anemia isn’t something to self-diagnose or treat. So see your doctor for a diagnosis, rather than taking iron supplements on your own. Overloading the body with iron can be dangerous because excess iron accumulation can damage your liver and cause other complications.
Diagnosing Iron Deficiency Anemia
Iron Deficiency anemia is easily diagnosed with lab work. What is most important is to determine the reason why you have this type of anemia. It is often related to blood loss, either from a female’s heavy menstrual cycle or bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract. A woman, if indicated, can be placed on birth control pills to control a heavy menstrual cycle. If the bleeding is from the GI tract, finding the cause and stopping the bleeding is of utmost importance.
Coming up, B12 deficiency anemia, as well as, my viewpoint on B12 supplements.