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Iron Deficiency Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Prevention

Iron Deficiency Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Prevention

by MedPlus Team, July 31, 2019

Iron deficiency anemia is the most prevalent type of anemia. It is a condition caused by the lack or low count of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. Iron is essential in maintaining several body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Iron is also important to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails. When there are low levels of iron in the bloodstream, the body may not get enough amount of oxygen it requires.

Though this condition is common, many people are not aware of iron deficiency. While they can experience some common symptoms. Thus, this condition may be usually treated with iron supplements and iron-rich diet.

What are the Symptoms of Iron-deficiency Anemia?

a. Strange cravings to eat items that are not food, such as dirt, ice, or clay, chalk, etc
b. A tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
c. Tongue swelling or soreness
d. Fast or irregular heartbeat
e. Cold hands and feet
f. Shortness of breath
g. General fatigue
h. Brittle nails
i. Headaches
j. Weakness
k. Dizziness
l. Pale skin

What are the Causes of Iron-deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia relates mainly to the lack of hemoglobin in the blood. Bone marrow, which is present in the center of the bone needs iron to make hemoglobin, a red protein that provides color to the red blood cells that transport oxygen to the body’s organs. Certainly, due to the lack of adequate iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. Finally, it results in iron-deficiency anemia. Specifically, this type of anemia can be caused by:

1. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the metabolic demands may deplete a woman’s iron stores
2. A poor or low iron diet, especially in infants, children, teens, vegans, and vegetarians
3. Certain drugs, foods, and caffeinated drinks
4. Increased frequency of blood donation
5. A decreased ability to absorb iron
6. Blood loss/Menstruation

Causes include:

1. Pregnancy:
Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition in pregnancy. The growing fetus needs a lot of iron because it may lead to low iron levels, which is a risk for mother as well as the growing fetus.

Furthermore, a pregnant woman has an increased blood volume in her body. This larger volume of blood demands additional iron to meet its daily requirements.

2. An Iron-Poor Diet:
In particular, your body regularly gets iron from the foods you eat. If your diet is deficient in iron, over time it can lead to iron deficiency. For example, foods that are rich in iron include meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables, and iron-fortified foods. For proper growth and development, infants, children, and teens, especially during puberty, need iron from their regular diets.

3. Blood loss:
Red blood cells contain iron that is primarily found in the blood. Accordingly, when there is a blood loss, you lose some iron. Consequently, women with a heavy flow of menstruation are at risk of iron deficiency anemia. In some cases, slow, chronic blood loss within the body such as from a peptic ulcer, a hiatal hernia, or some cancers can cause iron-deficiency anemia.

4. Decreased Ability to Absorb Iron:
Iron from food is directly absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine. In particular, an intestinal disorder, such as celiac or Crohn’s disease, which affects the intestinal ability to absorb nutrients from digested food, may lead to iron deficiency anemia. In some cases, if the part of the small intestine has been bypassed or removed surgically, that may also affect the ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.


Of course, a doctor would first advice to undergo the following investigations to diagnose Iron deficiency anemia.

1. A Complete Blood Picture (CBP) test: In fact, a complete blood picture test measures all most all the components of the blood that includes:

a. Hematocrit
b. Platelets count
c. Hemoglobin Levels
d. Red blood cells (RBCs) count
e. White blood cells (WBCs) count

In short, these tests are useful to detect iron deficiency anemia. However, based on the investigations, treatment may be suggested by the concerned doctor.

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Although many types of anemia may not be prevented, especially consuming iron-rich foods, such as beef, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts can help prevent anemias caused by iron or vitamin deficiencies. Besides, meat and dairy products are the good sources of vitamin B12, and folic acid is found in citrus juices, legumes, and fortified cereals, etc.

According to the recommendations of the American Society of Hematology, taking a daily multivitamin to help prevent nutritional anemias. However, supplements to use may be prescribed by the doctor based on the requirement.

Therefore, quit smoking and drink plenty of water to ensure the quick recovery process.

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