Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. A lack of hemoglobin results in insufficient oxygen supplies, resulting in symptoms that may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of the tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Cravings for unusual substances like ice or starch

Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • An iron deficiency can occur if you aren’t consuming enough iron, you are losing too much iron, or your body is not absorbing iron properly.
  • Your iron needs have increased as a result of pregnancy or breastfeeding.

You may not be consuming enough iron if:

  • You’re a strict vegetarian.
  • You’re not eating enough food.

You may be losing too much iron if:

  • You have heavy, long, or frequent menstrual periods.
  • You are bleeding internally.
  • You have a disease affecting your digestive tract.

You may not be absorbing enough iron if:

  • You’ve had gastric bypass surgery
  • You have a digestive condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac diease.

Diagnosing Iron Deficiency Anemia

A series of blood tests can be used to diagnose iron deficiency anemia. If these tests find you are not producing enough hemoglobin and you have low iron levels, additional tests will be done to determine the underlying cause of your iron deficiency. These tests may include a colonoscopy, an upper endoscopy, or a fecal blood test.

Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia

Taking iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods can help alleviate the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, but the underlying cause of the iron deficiency must be addressed. Long-term treatment plans will vary depending on whether you’re suffering from iron loss or problems with iron absorption. Once the underlying problem is treated and supplements or dietary changes are added, blood counts should return to normal within two months.