Iron Deficiency Anemia – An Overview
Iron deficiency anemia impacts many of us and it actually quite common but most people don’t know a lot about it. Iron deficiency anemia is an inadequate red blood cell count, or hemoglobin level, as a result of insufficient iron.
Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. Iron is a large component of hemoglobin, and normally extra iron is stored in the body until is needed to produce new red blood cells. Some people have little or no iron stored in their bodies, but it can be balanced out by increasing iron in the diet.
There are three general causes for inadequate amounts of stored iron:
- Not enough iron in the diet to replace the amount that is lost each day: mostly seen in children, pregnant women, and in people on restricted diets.
- A digestive system that is unable to absorb the iron from the diet, either from a disorder or medication that interferes with absorption.
- The stored iron is depleted through an excessive loss of blood, such as heavy menstrual bleeding or gastrointestinal bleeding. Iron deficiency anemia can be diagnosed through a blood test, a test for blood in the stool, or a bone marrow test.
Symptoms for iron deficiency anemia include:
- Pale skin and eyes
- Weakness or breathlessness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations
While iron-deficiency anemia is generally not life threatening, it does weaken your body's resistance to the effects of illness or injury. It produces additional stress on the heart and lungs, potentially leading to congestive heart failure, heart attack, or stroke.
Treatment depends on the cause of the anemia. In most cases, eating a diet rich in iron or taking iron supplements can clear up the insufficiencies. Foods such as dried beans and peas, dried fruit and nuts, meats, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and poultry and eggs are all good sources of iron. Also, increasing vitamin C intake at the same time as high-iron foods helps with iron absorption. Contrarily, high calcium foods can reduce iron absorption and should be eaten separate from supplements and iron-rich foods.
However, if the condition is caused by blood loss, the source of the loss needs to be identified and corrected.
It is important to note that Iron supplements can have a few intestinal side effects, such as nausea, constipation, heartburn, or diarrhea. Following a physician's guidelines for dosage can greatly reduce these annoyances. Most anemias will clear up after a few weeks of treatment.
So now that you have a little background information, if you think you are suffering from Iron deficiency anemia, you should definitely contact your doctor.