Iron Deficiency – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency is a common condition where the body doesn’t have sufficient iron content. The causes of iron deficiency are varied and range from acute loss of blood and improper diet to pre-existing conditions that a person might have.

The symptoms of iron deficiency are different for different persons and depend on the pace it develops, the person’s age, health status and progression of anaemia.

Some people might not be having any symptoms although they have iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency causes the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the body to fall to an unusually low level because iron is an essential component of haemoglobin, the protein in our RBCs which allows them to transport oxygen to our tissues.

All our organs and tissues need oxygen and the lack of RBCs will cause anaemia to develop in the body.

There are many kinds of anaemia but the most common form is Iron Deficiency Anaemia.

In this article, we are going to tell you all about Iron deficiency, its symptoms, causes, treatments and how you can prevent it from happening.

Let’s get straight into it!

Red Blood Cells

Iron Deficiency Symptoms

The signs of iron deficiency are-

  • Unexplained lack of strength – A lack of strength and general fatigue that is persistent and does not recede with rest might be a symptom that you have iron deficiency. The lack of strength is due to enough oxygen not reaching the tissues and cells which leads to them not being able to produce enough energy.
  • Skin colour becoming yellow or pale – Iron deficiency might cause the skin to become pale because it leads to low haemoglobin count in the blood thus giving a chalky look. Doctors often check the bottom of the eyelids to see if they have changed colour. The paleness can also occur in the nails or inner lips.
  • Dizziness – This occurs due to not enough oxygen reaching the brain.
  • Hair Loss – When people have iron deficiency, hair loss might occur because the reduced haemoglobin is unable to transport enough oxygen to the follicles of our hair. Hair follicles are alive and without oxygen, they become dormant causing hair to fall off. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26314490>
  • Tachycardia or rapid heartbeat – Iron deficiency might also cause abnormally rapid heartbeat as the heart tries to compensate and increase blood flow to areas which are not getting enough oxygen. This increases strain on the heart.
  • Tongue becoming sore or abnormally smooth – Low haemoglobin might cause the tongue to become pale in colour and a lack of myoglobin may cause it to swell up or become smooth. Cracks and ulcers might also be caused due to iron deficiency.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome – It is not completely understood how iron deficiency causes Restless Leg Syndrome but there is a definite link between the two. The condition is usually worse during the night and may prevent the patient from sleeping.

Some other iron deficiency signs include:

  • Tingling in the legs
  • Pressure and headaches
  • Desire to eat ice and clay
  • Feet and hands becoming cold
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hearing a “whoosh” sound in the ears
  • Nails being prone to breaking

Iron Deficiency Causes

There are many things that might cause iron deficiency ranging from loss of blood to an improper diet.

Some of the main causes of iron deficiency are-

  • Blood loss due to heavy menstruation– Women who have heavy periods are at risk of developing iron deficiency.
  • Increased demand of iron due to pregnancy– Iron deficiency in pregnancy is very common both in developing countries and developed countries. Many women are lacking enough iron stores to cope with the greater requirements of iron that pregnancy demands.
  • Improper diet and malabsorption of iron– This is one of the main causes of iron deficiency in men. Diets that are not rich in iron-rich foods lead to anaemia and several problems. Iron deficiency in children can happen because of excess milk intake as drinking too much milk reduces the ability to absorb iron and can also harm the lining of the intestines causing blood loss.
  • Surgery or major trauma-Gastric bypass surgery or other bariatric operations list iron deficiency as a possible side effect. Blood loss due to major trauma may also lead to deficiency.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions– People with conditions like ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease and peptic ulcers are vulnerable to developing iron deficiency.
  • Internal bleeding- Internal bleeding can cause loss of iron in the body. Women with endometriosis are particularly at risk.

Iron Deficiency Treatment

Even after doctors have isolated and treated the cause of iron deficiency, you will still need to take iron supplements until the level of iron in the body comes back to normal.

Some common methods of treating iron deficiency are-

  • Iron supplements– Medical practitioners might prescribe supplements to the patient in order to remove iron deficiency. Be aware that most multi-vitamin supplements do not really have enough iron in them and you might need dedicated iron supplements.
  • Intravenous Iron- Your doctor may recommend intravenous iron to you in some cases. This usually happens when the patient is not tolerant to oral iron, cannot absorb iron properly, has severe bleeding or has a very severe deficiency.
  • Blood transfusion- Blood transfusions may be given as a temporary solution to iron deficiency before doctors find the underlying cause and treat it successfully. <>
  • Diet- A proper diet is important in curing iron deficiency and we will discuss it in detail below.

Veg

Iron Rich Foods

Eating foods high in iron goes a long way in curing iron deficiency.

The best food for iron deficiency is a combination of a variety of vegetables and meat.

Some great sources of iron are-

  • Meats– Red meat like pork and beef is especially rich in iron. Liver is a great source of iron. Poultry meat such as chicken and turkey help in curing iron deficiency. White meat like fish and shellfish is also rich in iron.
  • Green leafy vegetables- Vegetables like broccoli, turnip and cabbage are rich in iron.
  • Iron-rich fortified food– Iron fortified food such as enriched grains, cereals and rice is good for iron deficiency.
  • Legumes– Peas, Lima beans and other legumes are great for curing iron deficiency.

Combine these foods with fruits rich in Vitamin C as that will help your body absorb iron more efficiently.

Iron deficiency is however different from Iron Deficiency Anaemia.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia

Iron deficiency Anaemia is a condition characterised by the presence of too few healthy red blood cells and can occur when severe iron deficiency is not treated.

Mild anaemia can go by undetected until you undergo a blood test.

It is only when the anaemia is moderate or severe that the effects of iron deficiency start to show.

Many symptoms of anaemia are the same as the symptoms of iron deficiency.

Thus we can conclude by saying that iron deficiency is a serious condition that can lead to a host of problems like Iron Deficiency Anaemia.

We can, however, take several steps to prevent this from happening such as having iron supplemented foods, eating lots of green leafy vegetables and good meat and taking enough Vitamin C.

If we take regular check-ups which include tests for iron levels in the blood, then we can prevent it from falling to dangerously low levels.

This was our article on iron deficiency. We hope you enjoyed reading and we wish you a great and healthy time ahead.

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Mitravinda Savanur

Mitravinda is a Nutritionist at DietChart with a doctoral degree in Food Science and Nutrition. She is a teacher, researcher and author. Her passion for the subject prompted her to start writing blogs on various nutrition-related topics such as high protein vegetarian foods, diet chart to lose weight, diet chart for weight loss in 7 days, etc. Through her blogs, she wishes to help people gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between food, nutrition, lifestyle and health.

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