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 red blood cells. As a result, iron deficiency anemia can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath.
You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplements. Sometimes iron deficiency anemia requires further testing and treatment, 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 include:
Chest pain, fast heart rate or shortness of breath
Headache, dizziness, vertigo
Cold hands and feet
Tongue inflammation or pain
Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances such as ice, dirt, and 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 develop symptoms that may indicate iron deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is not a self-diagnosis or treatment. Therefore, consult your doctor before using iron supplements on your own. Excess iron can damage the liver and cause other complications, so overloading your body with iron is dangerous.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body does not 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 you’ll develop iron deficiency anemia.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
Blood loss. Blood contains iron in red blood cells. So when you bleed, you lose some iron. Women who have heavy periods are at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia due to heavy menstrual bleeding. Long-term chronic bleeding from stomach ulcers, hernias, colon polyps, and 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 can develop iron deficiency 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 is surgically removed or bypassed, it may affect your ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
Pregnancy. Without iron supplements, many pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia because their iron stores not only increase blood volume, but also serve as a source of hemoglobin for fetal growth.