Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the body which triggers a decline in the blood of healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues to produce energy and a healthy skin color. When you lack iron your body cannot produce adequate hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance contained by red bloods cells that enables the transportation of oxygen around the body.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling lethargic, pale, weak, and in some cases depressed. Often the symptoms are very mild and can go unnoticed for some time, but the signs will intensify as the body becomes more deficient. Iron deficiency symptoms will include one or more of the following:
- Escalating fatigue
- Pale skin
- Weakness and lethargy
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Inflammation or soreness of the tongue
- Increased bodily infection
- Brittle nails
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances (ice, dirt or starch)
- Poor appetite, particularly in infants and children
- Restless legs syndrome — a tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
Cause of Iron Deficiency
- Blood loss
- A lack of iron in the diet
- An inability to absorb and retain iron
If you lose blood, then you lose red blood cells and are therefore losing iron. For example, women that experience heavy periods are at high risk of iron deficiency anemia. Similarly, slow blood loss in the body caused by a peptic ulcer, a kidney or bladder tumor, a colon polyp, colorectal cancer or uterine fibroids can also cause iron deficiency anemia.
Under normal circumstances the body receives regular iron from the foods you eat. Consume too little iron over a substantial period of time and your body will become iron deficient.
Iron from food is absorbed into the small intestine. Those suffering from Crohn’s disease or celiac disease are at risk of iron deficiency anemia due to an abnormal functioning of the small intestine. Similarly, those with a small intestine bypass or part small intestine removal are also at risk of iron deficiency anemia.
Pregnant women need increased iron to supplement their own expanding blood volume and to provide hemoglobin to the growing fetus. A fetus needs iron to develop red blood cells, blood vessels and muscle. Therefore, a pregnant women needs to increase iron intake through food and where necessary an iron supplement.
Treatment of Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency can be treated with an iron supplement or by dietary adjustment. In cases where internal bleeding is occurring then alternative treatments requiring short term hospitalization may be required. Unlike common vitamin or mineral deficiencies, iron deficiency anemia isn’t a condition that can be home treated. Supplements should only be taken with a doctor’s supervision because an iron overload will cause excess iron accumulation; potentially damaging for the liver.