Iron deficiency is said to occur when your hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to your tissues, in your red blood cells decreases due to the deficiency of the mineral iron.
This is the most common form of anemia due to which impairs the ability of your red blood cells to store and carry oxygen to different parts of the body.
Iron deficiency leads to several complications if not treated in time. These include conditions of the heart, lungs, and the brain along with the overall quality of life.
How do you know if you have iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency symptoms are not the same for everyone. There are several factors that determine low iron symptoms including:
- How quickly has your iron deficiency anemia developed?
- What is the severity of your iron deficiency?
- Your age and general state of health.
Iron deficiency symptoms affect both your body and the mind. Here are some physiological anemia deficiency symptoms:
- One of the most common low iron symptoms is the feeling of tiredness almost always without exertion.
- Having pale-colored face, gums, lips, lower eyelids, or nails.
- Irregular heartbeats or palpitations.
- Shortness of breath.
- Brittle and dry hair.
- Excessive hair loss.
- Dry skin.
- Spoon-shaped nails that break or crack easily.
- Cold hands and feet
- Frequently occurring infections.
- Swollen, pale, or strangely smooth tongue.
- Dry mouth with red cracks at the corner.
- Mouth ulcers.
- Itchy sensations in your legs are accompanied by restless leg syndrome.
- Frequent headaches.
Iron deficiency symptoms that affect your mind include:
- Strange cravings including that of clay, dirt, chalk, ice, etc.
- Feeling depressed.
- Having difficulty in concentration.
- Feeling cranky.
What causes iron deficiency?
There are many reasons why a person may become deficient in iron. Some of the most commonly occurring iron deficiency causes include:
- Consuming a diet low in iron i.e. the one that lacks meat, eggs, leafy vegetables, etc. is one of the most common iron deficiency causes.
- Conditions like pregnancy when you need more than the usual amount of iron.
- Heavy menstruation over a long period causes iron deficiency anemia.
- Excessive blood loss during delivery may lead to iron deficiency anemia.
- Conditions such as ulcers, endometriosis, polyps in the intestines, or cancer that cause internal bleeding lead to iron deficiency.
- Long-term dependence on pain relievers causes iron deficiency.
- Disorders that interfere with the absorption of iron including Celiac disease leading to a lack of iron in the body.
- Sickel cell anemia or thalassemia, which are inherited blood disorders also cause iron-deficiency anemia.
- There are certain chronic conditions that interfere with your hormonal levels and don’t allow your body to create sufficient red blood cells. Some of these conditions include lupus, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, advanced kidney disease, etc.
- Untreated irritable bowel syndrome.
- Recent gastric bypass surgery may lead to iron deficiency.
Who is at risk of iron deficiency?
There are some categories of people who are at a higher risk for iron deficiency disease such as:
- Pregnant women
- Those who suffer from heavy menstruation.
- People consume iron-deficient foods by choice or due to lack of resources.
- People who donate blood frequently may suffer from iron deficiency in the long run.
- Premature children may suffer from iron deficiency disease.
How is iron deficiency diagnosed?
There are several tests that are used to diagnose iron-deficiency anemia. These are usually included in your full body checkup to look for early signs of anemia:
- Complete blood count (CBC): This is the most common anemia test that measures the number and size of your red and white blood cells, hemoglobin level, and hematocrit level.
- Expecting women are tested for their hemoglobin levels during their pregnancy tests.
- A Ferritin Test may be done to assess the level of iron stored in your body.
To assess the underlying causes of iron deficiency anemia, you may be advised:
- Endoscopy: This iron deficiency anemia test is done to look for hernia or ulcers that may be causing internal bleeding.
- Ultrasound: Women may be advised an ultrasound to look for the causes of excessive menstrual bleeding that’s leading to their iron deficiency disease.
- Colonoscopy: This is done to check for causes of internal bleeding.
How is iron deficiency treated?
This is how iron deficiency treatment is usually done:
- Iron supplements: This is the most common way for iron deficiency treatment. Your doctor may prescribe these supplements to replenish the levels of iron in your body. The best iron supplement for anemia benefits is usually seen months after their regular consumption.
- Diet: Your doctor may prescribe a special diet consisting of iron-rich foods for anemia. This is usually accompanied by vitamin C supplements to help your body absorb iron.
- Treating the underlying causes of iron deficiency anemia: If your iron deficiency anemia has occurred due to some underlying causes, your doctor will treat them. Women may be given oral contraceptives for controlling heavy menstrual flow. If you have a bleeding polyp or an ulcer, you may be advised antibiotics or surgery.
- Blood transfusion: You may be advised a blood transfusion if your anemia deficiency is severe. You may also be given an intravenous infusion of iron if you suffer from chronic kidney disease.
Which are some ways to prevent iron deficiency?
Fortunately, iron deficiency anemia, except when its occurring due to other underlying causes, can be prevented by consuming a balanced diet consisting of iron-rich foods for anemia. These include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Meat such as beef, pork, chicken, and lamb.
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach.
- Lentils and peas
- Dry fruits, especially raisins
- Breakfast cereals and bread fortified with iron.
- Fruits like melons, apples, pomegranate, black currants, mulberries, and bananas.
To let your body absorb iron better, there are other nutritious anemia foods to eat with high vitamin C content also such as:
- Brussels sprouts
- Fruits like oranges, strawberries, papayas, pineapples, mangoes, etc.
- Green leafy vegetables
- Red and green bell peppers
To let these foods increase the iron content in your body, you should avoid consuming tea or coffee with your meals. The caffeine in these drinks interferes with the process of iron absorption.