Iron deficiency anemia
Iron deficiency anemia
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, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.
You can usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplementation. Sometimes, additional treatments for iron deficiency anemia are necessary, especially if you're bleeding internally.
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 symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
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 blood its red color and enables the red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood throughout your body. If you aren't consuming enough iron, or if you're losing too much iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin, and iron deficiency anemia will eventually develop.
Causes of iron deficiency anemia include:
These groups of people may have an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia:
Mild iron deficiency anemia usually doesn't cause complications. However, left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can become severe and lead to health problems, including the following:
Preparing for your appointment
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs and symptoms that worry you. If you're diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you may need tests to look for a source of blood loss, including tests to examine your gastrointestinal tract.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. For iron deficiency anemia, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may run tests to look for:
Additional diagnostic tests
Your doctor may order these or other tests after a trial period of treatment with iron supplementation.
Treatments and drugs
To treat iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend you take iron supplements. Your doctor will also treat the underlying cause of your iron deficiency, if necessary.
Iron supplements can cause constipation, so your doctor may also recommend a stool softener. Iron may turn your stools black, which is a harmless side effect.
Iron deficiency can't be corrected overnight. You may need to take iron supplements for several months or longer to replenish your iron reserves. Generally, you'll start to feel better after a week or so of treatment. Ask your doctor when you need to return to have your blood rechecked to measure your iron levels.
Treating underlying causes of iron deficiency
If iron deficiency anemia is severe, blood transfusions can help replace iron and hemoglobin quickly.
You can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia by choosing iron-rich foods.
Choose iron-rich foods
Your body absorbs more iron from meat than it does from other sources. If you choose to not eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as someone who eats meat.
Choose foods containing vitamin C to enhance iron absorption
Vitamin C is also found in:
Preventing iron deficiency anemia in infants
Last Updated: 2011-03-04
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