Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a decrease in the number of red cells in the blood caused by too little iron. Approximately 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women & 3% of men are being iron deficient.

Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment in the blood. Iron is normally obtained through the food in the diet and by recycling iron from old red blood cells. Without it, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively and oxygen is needed for the normal functioning of every cell in the body.

The causes of iron deficiency anemia are too little iron in the diet, poor absorption of iron by the body, and loss of blood (including from heavy menstrual bleeding). It can also be related to lead poisoning in children.

Anemia develops slowly after the normal stores of iron have been depleted in the body and in the bone marrow. Women, in general, have smaller stores of iron than men and have increased loss through menstruation, placing them at higher risk for anemia than men.

In men and postmenopausal women, anemia is usually caused by gastrointestinal blood loss associated with ulcers, the use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), or certain types of cancer (esophagus, stomach, colon).

High-risk groups include women of child-bearing age who have blood loss through menstruation; pregnant or lactating women who have an increased requirement for iron; infants, children ,and adolescents in rapid growth phases; and people with a poor dietary intake of iron. Risk factors related to blood loss are peptic ulcer disease, long term aspirin use and colon cancer.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia

  • Pale skin color (pallor)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual food cravings (called pica)
  • Decreased appetite (especially in children)
  • Headache - frontal
  • Blue tinge to sclerae (whites of eyes)

Treatment for iron deficiency anemia

The cause of iron deficiency anemia must be identified, particularly in older patients who are most susceptible to intestinal cancer.

Oral iron supplements are available (ferrous sulfate). The best absorption of iron is on an empty stomach, but many people are unable to tolerate this and may need to take it with food. Milk and antacids may interfere with absorption of iron and should not be taken at the same time as iron supplements. Vitamin C can increase absorption and is essential in the production of hemoglobin.

Supplemental iron is needed during pregnancy and lactation because normal dietary intake rarely supplies the required amount.

The hematocrit should return to normal after 2 months of iron therapy, but the iron should be continued for another 6 to 12 months to replenish the body's iron stores, which are contained mostly in the bone marrow.

Intravenous or intra-muscular iron is available for patients who can't tolerate oral forms.

Iron-rich foods include raisins, meats (liver is the highest source), fish, poultry, eggs (yolk), legumes (peas and beans), and whole grain bread. Well-balanced health supplements can also solve a iron deficiency issue.

The outcome of a treatment for iron deficiency anemia is likely to be good. In most cases the blood counts will return to normal in 2 months.

Everyone's diet should include adequate amounts of iron. Red meat, liver, and egg yolks are important dietary sources of iron. Flour, bread, and some cereals are fortified with iron. If you aren't getting enough iron in your diet, iron supplements should be taken.

During periods of increased requirements, such as pregnancy and lactation, increase dietary intake or take iron supplements.

Our personal approach to prevent and treat iron deficiency anemia


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