Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an essential part of red blood cells and binds to the oxygen your lungs receive when you breathe in. It then transports and releases that oxygen to your body’s cells and tissues.

If you’re deficient in iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. Without sufficient hemoglobin, your body’s cells and tissues won’t get enough oxygen and can’t work effectively. This leads to fatigue and other symptoms of anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia can occur due to various reasons. It could be because your diet lacks enough iron-rich foods, your body isn’t absorbing iron properly, or you are losing more red blood cells and iron than your body can replace, possibly because of heavy or prolonged menstruation, pregnancy, or a bleeding ulcer.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, 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, and poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency

If left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can cause serious health problems. Having too little oxygen in the body can damage organs. Treatment usually involves taking iron supplements and making changes to your diet to increase your intake of iron-rich foods. It’s important to diagnose and treat the condition as soon as possible. If you suspect you have iron deficiency anemia, it’s best to speak to a healthcare provider.

Causes of Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is caused by several factors, including:

1. Inadequate Iron Intake: This is the most common reason. Iron is found in meat, fish, eggs, and foods made from grains. If you’re not consuming enough of these foods, you may be at risk for iron deficiency anaemia.

2. Blood Loss: Iron is present in red blood cells. Therefore, if you lose a significant amount of blood for any reason (such as heavy menstrual periods, regular blood donation, gastric ulcers, colon cancer, or other bleeding disorders), you may develop iron deficiency anaemia.

3. Pregnancy: Pregnant women require much more iron to support their growing babies and increase their own blood volume. If not enough iron is consumed or supplemented, anaemia can occur.

4. Inability to Absorb Iron: Certain disorders like coeliac disease or surgical procedures such as gastric bypass can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron from food, leading to iron deficiency anaemia.

5. Increased Iron Requirements: During periods of rapid growth, especially in infancy and adolescence, the body requires more iron, which if not fulfilled, can lead to anaemia.

6. Chronic Conditions: Some chronic diseases like kidney disease or cancer can interfere with the production of red blood cells, leading to anaemia.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional if you suspect you have an iron deficiency, as the exact cause will affect the treatment given.

Risk Factors of Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the part of red blood cells that gives them their color and enables them to carry oxygen to your tissues and organs. Without enough iron, your 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 you tired and short of breath.

Following are the risk factors associated with iron deficiency anaemia:

1. Diet: A diet consistently low in iron-rich foods causes some cases of iron deficiency anaemia. Iron-rich foods include red meat, eggs, and leafy green vegetables.

2. Absorption problems: Iron from food is absorbed into your bloodstream in your small intestine. A number of diseases and conditions can prevent your intestines from absorbing enough iron, leading to deficiency.

3. Blood loss: Blood contains iron within red blood cells. If you shed a significant amount of blood through heavy menstrual bleeding, regular aspirin use or a bleeding ulcer, for example, you can have iron deficiency anaemia.

4. Pregnancy without iron supplementation: Although some iron is stored in the body, reserves often are insufficient for the increased demands of pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, you’re more vulnerable to iron deficiency anaemia because you need double the amount of iron that nonpregnant women need.

5. Lack of iron in the diet: Mostly infants, young children, teenage girls and women are at highest risk of iron deficiency anaemia because they have greater need for iron.

6. Intestinal Disorders: Some absorption disorders like Crohn’s or Celiac disease can also lead to Iron deficiency.

7. Vegetarian or vegan diets: Individuals who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet may be more at risk if they don’t properly manage their intake of iron-rich plant foods alongside vitamin C to aid absorption.

8. Frequent blood donation: Those who donate blood often can have iron deficiency if they are not replenishing iron stores.

It should be noted that some people may have a greater risk of developing iron deficiency anemia due to circumstances that require higher amounts of iron- such as rapid growth or pregnancy.

Signs and Symptoms of Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is a common type of anaemia that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce haemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and helps the red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Here are some signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia:

1. Fatigue: This is the most common symptom. People with this disease often feel very tired and weak because their cells are not getting enough oxygen.

2. Pale or yellowish skin: Iron deficiency can cause the skin to become pale or have a yellowish color. This happens because the body is not making enough healthy red blood cells.

3. Shortness of breath: This can occur if the body is not getting enough oxygen due to the lack of iron.

4. Heart palpitations and chest pain: Iron deficiency anaemia can cause heart problems such as an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or a faster than normal heartbeat (tachycardia). Severe iron deficiency can even lead to heart condition, though this is rare.

5. Dizziness or lightheadedness: Side effect of not getting enough oxygen to the brain.

6. Headache: This can be caused by lack of oxygen to the brain.

7. Cold hands and feet: Blood circulation can be affected by low iron levels, leading to cold extremities.

8. Brittle nails or hair loss: Both can occur because of iron deficiency anaemia. Iron is important for healthy hair and nail growth.

9. Restless legs syndrome: Some people with iron deficiency anaemia may have an urge to move their legs, often because of discomfort.

10. Craving for non-nutritive substances: This is a condition known as pica where individuals crave substances like ice, dirt, or chalk.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, it is important that you seek medical advice. Your doctor can diagnose iron deficiency anaemia through a simple blood test. This condition can often be resolved with iron supplements and dietary changes.

Diagnosis Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is a common type of anaemia — a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.

Iron deficiency anaemia is caused by a shortage of the element iron in your body. Your bone marrow needs iron to produce hemoglobin. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin for red blood cells. Without sufficient hemoglobin, your body can’t get enough oxygen.

The deficiency may occur if you don’t consume enough iron through diet, your body doesn’t absorb iron properly, you have a condition that causes you to lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace, or you’re pregnant.

Symptoms can include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness and a range of other symptoms.

The diagnosis usually involves blood tests to check for lower than normal levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin, and a physical exam may also reveal a rapid or irregular heartbeat, pale or yellowish skin and other common signs. Treatment generally consists of iron supplements and changes to the diet to include more iron-rich foods.

Treatment of Iron deficiency anaemia

Treatment for iron deficiency anemia usually focuses on restoring the body’s iron levels to normal as well as addressing the underlying causes (if they’re identifiable), in order to prevent a recurrence. Here’s a detailed explanation:

1. Iron Supplements: The most common form of treatment for iron deficiency anemia is to take iron supplements. This can often quickly restore the levels of iron in your body. However, it may take several months to replenish your body’s iron stores in the bone marrow. Typical supplements consist of ferrous salts such as ferrous sulphate, ferrous fumarate, or ferrous gluconate. Iron supplements can cause side effects like constipation, nausea or abdominal discomfort. To mitigate these, it is usually recommended to take the supplements with meals.

2. Diet Modifications: Increasing intake of iron-rich foods can also help treat iron deficiency anemia. Foods like red meat, poultry, pork, seafood, beans, dark leafy greens (like spinach), peas, iron-fortified cereals and breads or grains are high in iron. Foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits or juices, strawberries, bell peppers, or tomatoes, can also help increase absorption of iron.

3. Treating Underlying Conditions: If the cause of iron deficiency anemia is due to an underlying condition (like ulcers, heavy periods, or cancer), it’s important to address these issues to prevent a recurrence of anemia. This might entail changes in medication, additional treatments, or in some cases, surgeries.

4. In Severe Cases: In severe cases of iron deficiency anemia, or in instances where a patient cannot tolerate oral iron supplements, iron may need to be given parenterally (by injection or IV) or blood transfusions may be necessary.

As with any health condition, it’s important to speak to a healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. It’s also crucial to follow the treatment exactly as suggested by the healthcare provider.

Medications commonly used for Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs when your blood doesn’t contain enough iron. The following medicines are commonly used to treat it:

1. Iron supplements: These are pills or liquids that contain iron. Iron supplements increase the amount of iron in your body to help replace the iron deficiency. The most common types are ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate, and ferrous fumarate.

2. Iron tablets: These are usually taken between 1-3 times a day, depending on the severity of the condition, and are typically given for a few months time.

3. Iron injections or iron infusions: For those who can’t take iron by mouth, iron can be given by injection into a muscle or infused into a vein.

4. Vitamin C supplements: Vitamin C can help the body absorb iron better, so sometimes vitamin C is given along with iron supplements.

5. Iron-rich diet: In addition to medication, patients are advised to consume a diet rich in iron such as red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, iron-fortified cereals, and peas.

In many cases, the underlying cause of iron deficiency also needs to be treated, so additional medications may be necessary depending on the cause. This could include antibiotics for infections, medication for heavy menstrual bleeding, or other treatments.

It’s always recommended to consult with a doctor or pharmacist prior to taking any medication. Not everyone’s body absorbs iron similarly and it is crucial to monitor the response, making adjustments as necessary.

Prevention of Iron deficiency anaemia

Preventing iron deficiency anemia mainly involves ensuring that you consume an adequate amount of iron in your diet. Here are some steps you can take to prevent iron deficiency anemia:

1. Eat Iron-Rich Foods: Include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet such as lean red meats, poultry, fish, legumes, and iron-fortified cereals or grains. Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale are also good sources of iron.

2. Increase Vitamin C Intake: Vitamin C can increase iron absorption and is essential when consuming iron-rich plant foods, such as lentils and beans, which contain a less easily absorbed type of iron. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C (such as oranges, strawberries, or bell peppers) in order to increase absorption.

3. Use Iron Cookware: Cooking in iron pots and pans can add extra iron to your food.

4. Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks: Some foods and drinks like coffee and tea or high-calcium foods can reduce iron absorption. Try to consume them in moderate amounts, and not at the same time as iron-rich meals.

5. Iron Supplements: If you’re at risk of iron deficiency – for example, if you’re pregnant or have a history of iron deficiency – consider taking iron supplements (after discussing it with your healthcare provider). Remember, overconsumption of iron can be harmful so always stick to the recommended dosage.

6. Regular Check-ups and Blood Tests: Regular health check-ups and blood tests can help identify a deficiency before it escalates into anaemia.

Remember it is always advisable to consult with a health care provider regarding your dietary needs and before starting any supplements.

FAQ’s about Iron deficiency anaemia

Sure, here are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about iron deficiency anaemia:

1. What is iron deficiency anaemia?
Iron deficiency anaemia is a common type of anaemia — a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. This lack of iron can occur if your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce haemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that gives blood its red color and enables the red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout your body.

2. What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia?
Symptoms can be mild and may often go unnoticed. They include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness, and cold hands and feet.

3. What causes iron deficiency anaemia?
The main causes are blood loss, a lack of iron in your diet, an inability to absorb iron, and pregnancy.

4. How is iron deficiency anaemia diagnosed?
A complete blood count (CBC) test is used to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia. If the haemoglobin and hematocrit levels are low, then it may be due to iron deficiency anaemia.

5. How is iron deficiency anaemia treated?
Treatment varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. It might include iron supplements or changes in diet. In more severe cases, blood transfusions or treatments to address the underlying cause of the iron deficiency may be necessary.

6. Can iron deficiency anaemia lead to other health issues?
If left untreated, iron deficiency anaemia can cause a number of health problems, such as heart problems because iron deficiency anaemia forces your heart to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood through your body.

7. How can iron deficiency anaemia be prevented?
It can be largely prevented by consuming an iron-rich diet.

Remember, always consult your healthcare provider for advice about your personal health and dietary needs.

Useful links

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. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin.

Here are some useful links to journals related to iron deficiency anaemia:


Please note that accessibility to full articles may depend on the individual’s or institution’s subscription to each journal. If you are unable to access a full article, you might be able to request it through an interlibrary loan system at your local library.

Complications of Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anemia, a lack of healthy red blood cells due to too little iron, can lead to various complications, including:

1. Fatigue: This is one of the most common complications. Iron deficiency anemia can leave you feeling tired and weak because your body is not receiving the oxygen it needs to function properly.

2. Poor Immune Function: It can decrease immune function, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

3. Difficulty Focusing: Iron deficiency anemia can also cause difficulty focusing, learning, and remembering, affecting cognitive function and performance at work or school.

4. Heart problems: If left untreated, iron-deficiency anemia can lead to rapid or irregular heartbeat. When you are anemic, your heart must pump more blood to compensate for the low amount of oxygen, which can lead to an enlarged heart or heart failure.

5. Pregnancy complications: In pregnant women, severe iron deficiency anemia can increase the risk for a premature birth or low birth weight baby. It can also cause the mother to be overly fatigued or raise their risk for infections.

6. Growth issues: In infants and children, severe iron deficiency can lead to growth retardation and delay in normal developmental milestones.

Remember, it’s always best to consult a healthcare provider if you suspect you or someone else is suffering from iron-deficiency anemia. Treatment is usually straightforward and can help prevent these complications.

Home remedies of Iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs when your blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. This condition can result from taking in less iron, having problems with iron absorption, or losing more iron than your body can replace. Here are some home remedies that may help manage iron deficiency anemia:

1. Iron-rich diet: Include more iron-rich foods in your diet. Go for lean meat, seafood, beans, green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, or bread.

Iron rich foods

2. Combine Iron with Vitamin C: This helps the body absorb the iron effectively. Eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, grapefruit, and tomatoes, with your iron-rich foods.

3. Cook using Cast Iron Pots or Pans: Iron can leach from the pan into the food. This can especially benefit when you’re cooking food that is acidic, such as tomato sauce.

4. Limit Certain Foods: While tea, coffee, dairy products, and whole grains are healthy, they can limit iron absorption. Try to consume these food items between meals, rather than with them, to maximize your body’s iron absorption.

5. Dried fruits and nuts: Foods like raisins, prunes, apricots, and figs are high in iron. Similarly, nuts especially almonds and seeds like sesame seeds have a good amount of iron.

Remember, iron supplements (if prescribed by your healthcare provider) should not be stopped without consulting your healthcare provider, even when you are incorporating these dietary remedies. It’s also essential to get tested for iron deficiency anemia and consult your healthcare provider or a dietitian to understand what might work best for you, as there may be other medical conditions that need to be addressed.

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Blood Disorder,

Last Update: January 3, 2024