Iron Deficiency Anemia

What is iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is a blood condition in which the body doesn’t have enough iron to make red blood cells. The iron in red blood cells transports oxygen to the body’s tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. It is most common in women of childbearing age. Causes include severe or persistent bleeding, long-term gastrointestinal conditions and diets which are low in iron-containing foods. Common symptoms of anemia are tiredness, weakness, a lack of energy, shortness of breath, pale skin and hair- and nail problems. Treatment normally includes iron supplements and increasing iron in the diet. Most people recover well with iron supplements and treatment of the cause of the anemia, if possible.

Risks

Anemia means that the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells and hemoglobin to transport oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency anemia is caused due to lack of iron and hemoglobin, which are needed for binding oxygen to the red blood cells. This condition may develop when the body does not have enough iron to make red blood cells. This condition often occurs after someone loses large amounts of blood or during pregnancy when the body needs more iron than normal. It can also occur slowly over time if a person can’t or doesn’t take in enough iron. Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anemia. This condition is most common in women of childbearing age.

Symptoms

People with mild anemia often have no symptoms. The most common symptoms are tiredness, weakness, a lack of energy, shortness of breath and paleness of the skin. Other symptoms may include problems with concentration, headaches, brittle nails, hair loss, cracks in the corner of the mouth, difficulty swallowing and a sore tongue. In rare cases, people with iron deficiency may have an urge to eat non-food items like ice, paper or clay.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is often based on symptoms in someone who is at risk of having an iron deficiency. Blood tests are done to investigate the number and size of red blood cells, along with the hemoglobin level and iron levels. Other tests, such as endoscopy (a flexible camera through the mouth to look at the intestine) may be needed to diagnose the cause of the iron deficiency.

Treatment

If the iron deficiency anemia is a sign of another underlying disease, that condition should be treated to prevent further iron loss or problems with iron intake. If there is no problem taking in iron, people with iron deficiency should eat iron-rich foods, such as lentils, peas and beans, fish, meat, green leafy vegetables, brown rice, eggs, and dried fruits such as dried apricots and prunes. People who have low stores of iron in their body can replace iron with supplements or, if large amounts are needed, by an injection.

Prevention

A balanced diet with enough iron-containing foods can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia. Pregnant women should consider taking an iron supplement to prevent this condition.