What is iron deficiency anemia?
Iron deficiency anemia happens when there is not enough iron in your blood. Iron is a mineral that is important to all body cells. Your blood cells need iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body tissues.
What is the cause?
Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by:
- Not having enough iron in your diet
- The iron in your diet not being absorbed properly due to a problem with your digestive system
- Loss of iron due to pregnancy or bleeding. For example, women lose iron in the blood during their menstrual periods. Another cause of blood and iron loss may be an injury, or internal bleeding in your stomach or intestines.
What are the symptoms?
Iron deficiency often causes no symptoms, but when symptoms are present, they may include:
- Feeling tired and weak
- Feeling cold all the time
- Having a sore mouth or tongue
- Having muscle aches for no reason
- Having trouble concentrating
- Having trouble fighting off infections
- Having shortness of breath, especially with activity
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You will have blood tests to check for possible causes. If your provider suspects internal bleeding, you may have lab tests to check for blood in your bowel movements, or other tests of your stomach and intestines.
How is it treated?
You may need to change your diet so that you get more iron from the food you eat. Meat, fish, and poultry are good sources of dietary iron. It is also present in liver, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, peas, beans, and whole-grain bread. A well-balanced diet contains enough iron for your daily needs. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a dietitian for advice.
Iron supplements can be prescribed that will build up your body stores of iron. Iron tablets may have side effects such as stomach cramps, nausea, constipation, and dark stools. To lessen side effects, your healthcare provider will start you on a low dose of iron and slowly increase your dose. He or she may suggest that you take vitamin C with the iron pills to help your body absorb the iron. Taking the iron at mealtimes can help prevent stomach and intestinal upset.
Do not take antacids and do not eat or drink any dairy products at the same time you take the iron pills. Antacids and dairy products keep your body from absorbing iron.
If changes to your diet or taking supplements do not raise your iron level enough, your provider may give you injections of iron.
The symptoms will respond quickly to treatment and improve in just a few days.
If you have a bleeding problem, treating the cause of bleeding may also treat the anemia.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your provider:
- How and when you will hear your test results
- How long it will take to recover
- If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
- How to take care of yourself at home
- What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
A healthy lifestyle may help:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes foods that are high in iron, such as meat, beans, and fortified breakfast cereals.
- Try to keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, lose weight.
- Stay fit with the right kind of exercise for you.
- Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
- If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to quit smoking.
- If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink.
- Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
How can I help prevent iron deficiency anemia?
Eating foods rich in iron can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia. If you have already had iron deficiency anemia, ask your healthcare provider if you should take iron supplements to keep the anemia from coming back. Do not take iron supplements unless your healthcare provider approves. It is possible to take too much iron.
Men need 8 mg a day. Men and women over age 50 need about 8 mg a day. Women 19 to 50 years old need 18 milligrams (mg) of iron per day. Women of childbearing age need twice as much iron in their diet as older women because they lose blood during menstruation.
Pregnant women need extra iron for the development of the baby, so 27 mg a day is recommended for them. Most prenatal vitamin pills contain the extra iron that a pregnant woman needs.
Developed by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright Â©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.