Iron is one of the most abundant materials on the planet. It is used to build houses and infrastructure, and iron enables plants to produce chlorophyll. Iron also plays an important role in the human body, and when you don’t have enough of it, the result is iron deficiency anemia.
Iron is needed by hemoglobin, a protein in the blood that’s responsible for bringing oxygen to the organs that need it. It is also responsible for the unique red shade of blood.
Some people develop an iron-deficiency for various reasons. This condition is called anemia.
Learn more about iron-deficiency anemia, its causes, symptoms, treatment, and what you can do to prevent this condition.
What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, anemia is the most common blood disorder. Anemia has many types, but is usually regarded as a shortage of red blood cells or impaired function of the red blood cells. There are different types of anemia namely:
- Iron-deficiency anemia: This type of anemia results from a lack of iron in the blood.
- Aplastic anemia: When the bone marrow stops producing enough blood cells it results in aplastic anemia.
- Hemolytic anemia: This occurs when red blood cells get destroyed in the bloodstream or the spleen.
- Sickle cell anemia: Sickle cell anemia occurs when there’s a shortage of red blood cells due to irregularities in their shape.
- Vitamin-deficiency anemia: This results from a deficiency in vitamin B12 and folic acid.
Iron-deficiency anemia is a more common type of anemia, and it happens when there is insufficient iron in the body. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin which enables red blood cells to carry oxygen to the different parts of the body. This means that iron-deficiency anemia causes a shortage of red blood cells needed to transport oxygen to different body organs.
Causes of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Iron-deficiency anemia can be caused by a variety of factors that depend on how much iron there is in the body. Simply put, iron deficiency happens if the body can’t absorb enough iron, or if the body loses too much. Causes include:
- Blood loss: Red blood cells contain iron. Consequently, losing blood means losing iron. Some conditions like colorectal cancer, a colon polyp, peptic ulcer, or hiatal hernia may cause bleeding over a long period of time, which can result in anemia.
- Insufficient iron intake: Diet is also an important factor to consider because food can also be a source of iron for the body. Not ingesting enough can lead to an iron-deficiency.
- Conditions that make it hard to absorb iron: The small intestine is responsible for absorbing iron from the food you eat. Conditions that affect the small intestine like celiac disease can lead to anemia, because of the body’s inability to absorb more iron. You can also develop iron-deficiency anemia if your small intestine has been surgically removed.
Women and Iron-Deficiency Anemia
Women are more prone to anemia compared to men. They can have low iron levels in the body for the follow reasons:
- Women lose a considerable amount of blood (80 ml or more) every month, which can significantly lower the amount of red blood cells and lead to anemia. Some women also have heavy bleeding when menstruating or may have longer periods.
- Some birth control methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause bleeding in the uterine lining which can make a woman more prone to losing iron.
- Pregnant women need more iron to supplement their babies.
- Women can lose a lot of blood during childbirth, which can make them at risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
- Some women have uterine fibroids which are non-malignant masses in the uterine lining which can lead to chronic bleeding.
Signs and Symptoms
People with iron-deficiency anemia might not exhibit any signs and symptoms in the beginning. However, as the iron levels in the body decrease even more, a person might start to show more obvious symptoms.
- Feeling fatigued
- General feeling of weakness
- Cold hands or feet
- Difficulty concentrating
- Wanting to eat non-edible things like dirt or ice, also known as “Pica”
- Shortness of breath
- Restless leg syndrome (usually from lack of blood flowing to the legs)
Some severe cases can cause an irregular heartbeat.
Taking iron supplements or adopting a few lifestyle changes can treat the initial stages of iron deficiency anemia. However, if left untreated, the condition can cause the following complications:
- Developmental delays in children: Due to the lack of iron, which is essential for transporting nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, children or infants with iron-deficiency anemia might have problems in their growth.
- Heart problems: A lack of iron can result in a shortage of red blood cells, which will make the heart work twice as hard to pump blood throughout the body. When your heart has to work harder, this can lead to irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia, a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, or even heart failure.
- Complications in pregnancy: Pregnant women who develop iron-deficiency anemia during their pregnancy might give birth to underweight or premature babies.
One of the best ways to prevent iron-deficiency anemia is to make sure to have eat iron-rich food such as:
- Pulses (beans, lentils, peas)
- Leafy, green vegetables like kale or spinach
- Cereals or grains fortified with iron
Some food or drink can also make it harder for your body to absorb iron if you ingest large amounts of them. So make sure to eat or drink the following in moderation:
- Dairy like milk
- Tea or coffee
Make sure to eat and drink more vitamin C rich food and drink, to help your body absorb more iron. Some fruits rich in vitamin C to try are:
- Citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, or grapefruit
Low levels of iron, which can result in a shortage of red blood cells, cause iron deficiency anemia. This condition can cause a number of symptoms like weakness or delayed growth, especially in children. However, making sure to have enough iron in your diet can help prevent this condition from occurring.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.