Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia, a condition in which the blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Specifically, iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and allows red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout your body. As a result, iron deficiency anemia can cause fatigue and shortness of breath.
You can correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplements, an iron-rich diet, or further checkups because the problem may be in the intestines.
Initially, iron deficiency anemia may be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes increasingly deficient in iron, the anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Pale skin
- Chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or shortness of breath
- Headaches, dizziness
- Cold hands and feet
- Tongue inflammation or pain
- Brittle nails
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances (ice or starch)
Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
If you don’t get enough iron, or if you lose too much iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, and iron deficiency anemia will eventually develop.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
1) Blood loss
Blood contains iron in red blood cells. So if you lose blood, you lose iron. Women with heavy periods are at risk for iron deficiency anemia because they lose blood during menstruation.
Slow, chronic blood loss from the body, such as in a peptic ulcer, hiatal hernia, 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.
2) 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. Meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, and iron-fortified foods are examples of iron-rich foods. For proper growth and development, infants and children also need iron from their diet.
3) An inability to absorb iron.
Iron from food is absorbed into your bloodstream through your small intestine. An intestinal disorder, such as celiac disease, which affects your gut’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food, can lead to iron deficiency anemia. If part of your small intestine has been surgically removed, it may affect your ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
Complications of anemia that can occur
Mild anemia usually does not cause complications. However, if the anemia is left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can become serious and lead to health problems, including:
– Heart problems.
Iron deficiency anemia can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat. Your heart has to pump more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen carried in your blood when you are anemic. This can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.
– Problems during pregnancy.
In pregnant women, severe anemia has been linked to premature births and low birth weight babies. But it’s preventable in pregnant women who take iron supplements as part of their prenatal care.
– Growth problems.
In infants and children, severe iron deficiency can lead to anemia as well as stunted growth and development. Also, iron deficiency anemia is associated with increased susceptibility to infections.
You can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia by choosing iron-rich foods.
Choose iron-rich foods such as:
Red meat, pork and poultry
Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
Dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots
Your body absorbs more iron from meat than it does from other sources. If you choose not to eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as someone who eats meat.