What is iron deficiency anemia?
Anemia occurs when you have a reduced level of haemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the protein in your red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygen to your tissues. Iron deficiency anemia is the most shared type of anemia and occurs when your body does not have sufficient mineral iron. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin. When there is not enough iron in your bloodstream, the rest of your body cannot get the amount of oxygen it needs.
While the condition can be common, many people are unaware that they have iron deficiency anemia. It is possible to experience symptoms for years without ever knowing the cause. In women of childbearing age, the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia is the loss of iron from the blood due to heavy menstruation or pregnancy. A poor diet or sure intestinal diseases that affect the way the body absorbs iron can also cause iron deficiency anemia. Doctors usually treat the condition with iron supplements or dietary changes.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia
If you are pregnant, iron deficiency anemia is usually caused by a lack of iron in your diet. Heavy periods and pregnancy are very mutual causes of iron deficiency anemia. Heavy periods can be treated with medicine.
For men and women whose periods have stopped, iron deficiency anemia can be a sign of bleeding in the stomach and intestines caused by:
- Attractive non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin
- Stomach ulcers
- Swelling of the large intestine (colitis) or esophagus
- Pile of something
- Cancers of the intestine or stomach, but this is less common
- Any other condition or action that causes blood loss could lead to iron deficiency anemia.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are related to decreased oxygen supply to the entire body and may include:
- Being pale or have “sallow” yellow skin
- Unexplained fatigue or lack of energy.
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain, especially with activity.
- Unexplained general weakness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Knocking or “whistling” in the ears
- Headache, especially with activity.
- The desire for ice or clay – “picophagia”
- Sore or smooth tongue
- Brittle nails or hair loss
These groups of people may be at increased risk for iron deficiency anemia:
- Woman: Because women lose blood during menstruation, women, in general, are at increased risk for iron deficiency anemia.
- Babies and children: Babies, especially those who were born underweight or born prematurely, who do not get enough iron from breast milk or formula may be at risk for iron deficiency. Children need extra iron during periods of a growth spurt. If your child does not eat a varied and healthy diet, he/she may be at risk for anemia.
- Vegetarians People who do not eat meat may have a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia if they do not eat other foods rich in iron.
- Frequent blood donors: People who routinely donate blood may be at amplified risk for iron deficiency anemia, as giving blood can deplete iron stores. Low hemoglobin related to giving blood can be a temporary problem that is cured by eating more iron-rich foods. If you are told that you cannot donate blood due to low hemoglobin, ask your doctor if you should be concerned.
Mild iron deficiency anemia typically does not cause complications. However, if left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can become serious and lead to health problems, including the following:
- Heart problems: Iron deficiency anemia can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat. Your heart must pump more blood to make up for the lack of oxygen your blood carries when you are anemic. This can lead to a distended heart or heart failure.
- Problems during pregnancy: In pregnant women, severe iron deficiency anemia has been linked to premature deliveries and low-birth-weight babies. But the disorder can be prevented in pregnant women who receive iron supplements as part of their prenatal care.
- Growing problems: In infants and children, severe iron deficiency can lead to anemia and delays in growth and development. Moreover, iron deficiency anemia is associated with increased susceptibility to infections.
You can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia by selecting foods rich in iron.
Choose foods rich in iron
Iron-rich foods include:
- Red meat, pork, and poultry
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Nuts, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-enriched cereals, bread, and pasta
Your body absorbs extra iron from meat than from other sources. If you choose not to eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich plant foods to absorb the same amount of iron as a person who eats meat.
Diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia
Symptoms of endometriosis can be similar to symptoms of other conditions, such as ovarian cysts and pelvic inflammatory disease. Treating your pain requires an accurate diagnosis.
Your physician will perform one or more of the next tests:
Your doctor will write down your symptoms and personal or family history of endometriosis. A general health assessment may also be done to determine if there are other signs of a long-term disorder.
During a pelvic exam, your doctor will manually palpate your abdomen for cysts or scars behind the uterus.
Your doctor may use a transvaginal ultrasound or an abdominal ultrasound. In a transvaginal ultrasound, a transducer is inserted into the vagina.
Both types of ultrasound provide images of your reproductive organs. They can help your doctor identify cysts associated with endometriosis, but they are not effective in ruling out the disease.
The only sure way to identify endometriosis is to see it directly. This is done through a minor surgical procedure known as laparoscopy. Once diagnosed, the tissue can be removed in the same procedure.
Treatment of iron deficiency anemia
Even if the cause of iron deficiency can be identified and treated, it is generally necessary to take medicinal iron (more iron than a multivitamin can provide) until the deficiency is modified and the body’s iron stores are replenished. In some cases, if the cause cannot be recognized or corrected, the patient may need to receive supplemental iron on an ongoing basis.
There are several ways to increase your iron intake:
- Meat: beef, pork, or lamb, particularly organ meats such as liver
- Fowl: chicken, turkey, and duck, especially liver and dark meat
- Fish, especially shellfish, sardines, and anchovies
- Leafy greens of the cabbage family, including broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and collard greens
- Legumes, including lima beans, peas, pinto beans, and white peas
- Iron-fortified pasta, cereals, rice, and cereals
The amount of iron needed to treat iron-deficient patients is greater than the amount found in most daily multivitamin supplements. The quantity of iron prescribed by your doctor will be in milligrams (mg) of elemental iron. Most people with iron deficiency need 150-200 mg of elemental iron per day (2 to 5 mg of iron per kilogram of body weight per day). Ask your doctor how many milligrams of iron to take each day. If you take vitamins, take them to the doctor to be safe.
There is no indication that any type of iron salt, liquid, or pill is better than the others, and the amount of rudimentary iron varies with different preparations. To be sure of the amount of iron in a product, check the packaging. In addition to elemental iron, the iron salt content (ferrous sulfate, fumarate, or gluconate) can also be listed on the package, which can leave consumers confused as to how many medicines or how much liquid to take to get the proper dosage of iron.
Iron is engrossed in the small intestine (duodenum and the first part of the jejunum). This means that enteric-coated iron medicines may not work as well. If you take antacids, you should take iron tablets two hours beforehand or four hours after the antacid. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) recovers iron absorption and some doctors recommend that you take 250 mg of vitamin C with iron tablets. Conceivable side effects of iron tablets include abdominal discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, and dark stools.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend iron through a vein (IV). Intravenous iron may be necessary to treat iron deficiency in patients who do not absorb iron well from the gastrointestinal tract, patients with severe iron deficiency or chronic blood loss, patients getting supplemental erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates the production of blood, or patients who cannot tolerate oral iron. If you need intravenous iron, your doctor may refer you to a haematologist to supervise your iron infusions. Intravenous iron comes in different preparations:
- Iron dextran
- Iron sucrose
- Ferric gluconate
Large doses of iron can be given at the same time when iron dextran is used. Iron sucrose and ferric gluconate need more frequent doses spread over several weeks. Some patients may have an allergic reaction to intravenous iron, so a test dose can be given before the first infusion. Allergic reactions are more common with iron dextran and may need to change to a different preparation. Serious side effects other than allergic reactions are rare and include hives (urticaria), pruritus (itching), and muscle and joint pain.
Red blood cell transfusions may be given to patients with plain iron deficiency anemia who are actively bleeding or have important symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or weakness. Transfusions are given to replace deficient red blood cells and will not completely correct iron deficiency. Red blood cell transfusions will only deliver temporary improvement. It is important to find out why you are anemic and treat the cause and symptoms.