Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia (A condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells). Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.
As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, the body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin). As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave one tired and short of breath.
Initially, iron deficiency anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify.
Iron deficiency anemia signs and symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue.
- Pale skin.
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat or shortness of breath.
- Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue.
- Brittle nails.
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch.
- Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and enables the red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout the body.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
Women with heavy periods are at risk of iron deficiency anemia because they lose blood during menstruation.
A lack of iron in the diet:
The body regularly gets iron from the food. Examples of iron-rich foods include meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified foods. For proper growth and development, infants and children need iron from their diets, too.
An inability to absorb iron:
Iron from food is absorbed into the bloodstream in small intestine. An intestinal disorder, such as celiac disease, which affects the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food, can lead to iron deficiency anemia. If part of small intestine has been bypassed or removed surgically, that may affect the ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
Without iron supplementation, iron deficiency anemia occurs in many pregnant women because their iron stores need to serve their own increased blood volume as well as be a source of hemoglobin for the growing fetus.
One can reduce the risk of iron deficiency anemia by choosing iron-rich foods. Foods rich in iron include:
- Red meat and poultry
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
Preventing iron deficiency anemia in infants
To prevent iron deficiency anemia in infants, feed the baby breast milk or iron-fortified formula for the first year. Cow’s milk isn’t a good source of iron for babies and isn’t recommended for infants under 1 year. After age 6 months, start feeding the baby iron-fortified cereals or pureed meats at least twice a day to boost iron intake. After one year, be sure children don’t drink more than 20 ounces (591 milliliters) of milk a day. Too much milk often takes the place of other foods, including those that are rich in iron.
To improve the chances that the body will absorb the iron in the tablets:
- Take iron tablets on an empty stomach: If possible, take iron tablets when the stomach is empty. However, because iron tablets can upset the stomach. If it happens ,take the iron tablets with meals.
- Don’t take iron with antacids: Medications that immediately relieve heartburn symptoms can interfere with the absorption of iron. Take iron two hours before or four hours after taking antacids.
- Take iron tablets with vitamin C: Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron.
Iron supplements can cause constipation, so a stool softener can also be prescribed with them. Iron may turn the stools black, which is a harmless side effect.