Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Our body needs iron to synthesize hemoglobin, which is an essential protein in the red blood cells (RBC) that helps carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. If we don’t have enough hemoglobin, there won’t be enough oxygen supply to the tissues and muscles, thereby affecting their functioning.
Iron deficiency is very common among: women who menstruate heavily or are pregnant or breastfeeding; people who have gastrointestinal and peptic ulcer diseases; and people who are vegetarians, vegans, or whose diet does not contain enough iron.
This article explores the commonplace signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia and some ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent it.
Signs And Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency
💠Unusual tiredness: Fatigue is a common symptom of iron deficiency. This is mainly due to the low hemoglobin in the blood, which is necessary for the working of tissues in our body.
💠Abnormally pale skin: Skin that is paler than usual, mostly the face, lower inner eyelids, and nails is a sign of iron deficiency. Hemoglobin in RBCs is what gives the blood its color, so any deficiency in it makes the blood lighter. In people with severe iron deficiency, the lower eyelids are usually pale pink or yellow, and the creases of the palms are also pale.
💠Shortness of breath: It is hemoglobin that transfers oxygen to all parts of the body. In the case of low hemoglobin, there will be a shortage of oxygen supply in the body, making the tissues and muscles work poorly. To increase the supply of oxygen, our breathing rate increases, resulting in breathlessness.
💠Heart palpitations: With lower levels of hemoglobin, there is only a smaller amount of oxygen reaching the body parts. The heart has to work hard to carry more oxygen, leading to irregular heartbeats. If the condition continues, the risks of heart failure and coronary heart disease increase.
💠Headaches: Frequent and recurrent headaches are also signs of iron deficiency.
💠Damaged hair and skin: Iron deficiency lowers the levels of hemoglobin in the blood, thereby reducing the oxygen supply to all body parts. This causes skin and hair to become weak and dry, and in more extreme cases, can cause hair loss.
💠Restless legs: This is often called restless leg syndrome, an unpleasant urge to move the legs during periods of inactivity. Unpleasant itching or crawling sensations are also seen in the feet and legs of people suffering from iron deficiency.
💠Brittle fingernails: To begin with, nails become brittle when there is a lack of iron. Subsequently, the shape of the nail shifts to a curved shape resembling a spoon, where the center of the nail curves downward and its edges curl up, instead of staying flat.
💠Pica: These are uncommon symptoms where patients with severe iron deficiency have abnormal cravings for non-food substances like dirt, chalk, clay, ashes, paper, paint, or ice.
💠Sore or smooth tongue: Iron deficiency can also be signaled by a swollen or unusually smooth tongue, as well as cracks at the corners of the mouth and mouth ulcers.
Diagnosis, Prevention, And Treatment
Iron deficiency is mostly diagnosed on physical examinations based on the concerns of individuals about being abnormally tired. Iron deficiencies in the body can be determined through blood tests.
In cases of severe deficiency, additional blood tests, biopsy, or endoscopy are done. These tests can give us feedback on the size and amount of blood cells and the sources of blood loss in the body.
There are several treatments to treat iron deficiency anemia. The most common treatment usually involves the intake of iron supplements to replace the missing iron in the body for a period of 6 months.
Next is intravenous (IV) iron, where iron is injected into the body through veins. This procedure only takes a few sessions to restore iron levels in the blood. Blood transfusions are another way of increasing the amount of iron in the blood. This method is usually used in severe anemic conditions.
We can prevent iron deficiencies by following a healthy diet that is high in iron and vitamin C.
If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of iron deficiency, it is wise to seek medical help. Rather than depending on over-the-counter medications or self-treatment, see a doctor to get it diagnosed and treated. This can avoid the overaccumulation of iron, which can lead to severe problems like liver and kidney damage.
If the symptoms are left untreated, they can increase the severity of the symptoms, damage the immune system, and develop complications in the functioning of the heart and lungs.