Iron deficiency anemia occurs when there is a decrease in red blood cells due to having too little iron in your body.
When your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce hemoglobin, which allows red blood cells to carry oxygenated blood to all your tissues, you will begin feel the effects in multiple ways.
Anyone can develop iron deficiency anemia, but some people are more at risk than others. Vegetarians and vegans are at risk, because their diets do not include red meat, one of the biggest dietary sources of iron. Women, too, are particularly at risk, as a result of monthly blood loss during menstruation. Pregnant women also need to be especially careful of anemia, as blood volume expands to help the fetus make his or her blood supply — doubling the woman’s need for iron.
On average, about 20 per cent of women and 50 per cent of pregnant women do not have enough iron in their bodies, compared to 3 per cent of men.
Iron Deficiency Anemia Symptoms
Our beating hearts circulate blood to every cell in our bodies, supplying them with vital oxygen. When you’re anemic, your cells lack are lacking oxygen, which can result in a range of physical symptoms.
Iron deficiency symptoms are often so mild, they go unnoticed or are written off as simply feeling tired. The more deficient you become, however, the worse the symptoms are, so it’s best to catch it early. If you are already experiencing some of the following symptoms and aren’t sure why, iron deficiency may be the culprit.
1. Extreme Fatigue Or Weakness
If you’re sleeping more than usual, aren’t waking up feeling as rested as you normally do, or simply experiencing over all low energy levels or muscle weakness for an extended period of time, anemia may be to blame.
2. Headache, Dizziness Or Light-headedness, Especially Upon Standing
Our blood pressure drops when we stand up, so if you’re already lacking oxygen, this movement can cause headaches and dizziness. For some, fainting may occur.
3. Shortness Of Breath
Are you more winded than usual while climbing the stairs? More cardio might not be the answer this time.
4. Frequent Infections
If small cuts are getting infected despite proper care, or if they are taking longer than normal to heal, low hemoglobin levels may be to blame.
5. Cold Hands And Feet
Are you often told, “You’re hands are so cold!”? Circulation issues affect your digits first, so if your fingers and toes are always freezing, or your nails turn purple, more iron, not more layers, may do the trick.
6. Weak, Brittle Nails
Your nails replenish quickly, so any nutrient deficiencies will show there first (as well as your hair). Strong, healthy nails mean your nutrition is on point, while splitting, weak, brittle nails are a sure sign that you may be lacking in iron.
7. Increased Heart Rate
Anemia can often effect your heart rate, as your heart will beat faster to try to supply your cells with more oxygen. If you find your heart is always racing, you may want to get checked out.
8. Unusual Cravings (Like, Really Unusual)
Cravings are your body telling you it needs something. Most of the time, it’s wise to ignore cravings (like if they’re responding to that sugary treat you had earlier), but if you are craving odd, non-food items, like chalk or dirt, your body is likely screaming for iron.
9. Restless Leg Syndrome
To people who have never experienced Restless Leg Syndrome, it almost sounds like a joke, but if you’ve ever felt that uncomfortable, almost unbearable, tingling, crawling feeling in your legs, poor circulation as a result of anemia may be to blame.
10. Chest Pain
Chest pain is never anything to take lightly. While it is a symptom of iron deficiency anemia, it can also be much more serious than that, so always get chest pain checked out immediately.
What Can You Do?
The quickest way to prevent any dietary deficiency is to make sure you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Consuming iron-rich foods like meat, eggs, fish and leafy greens or iron-fortified cereals, breads or milk will usually do the trick if there isn’t a bigger, underlying cause for low iron levels.
You can also usually correct iron deficiency anemia with iron supplementation. Many birth control pills come infused with iron, since women are at such high risk, but iron supplements are widely available over the counter. Before you diagnose yourself, however, talk to your doctor. Getting the right diagnosis from a professional is the first step to treating any health condition.