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Feeling fatigued and weak? Or maybe having bizarre cravings? These could be symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia, a common nutrient deficiency, particularly among pre-menopausal women.

It also affects men and children. Find out how prevalent this deficiency is, what causes it, and how to treat it.

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Introduction

Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies world-wide. It is often caused by a lack of iron in the body, brought about by low-iron diets or loss of blood. Parasitic worms are a major cause of iron deficiency in third world countries as these parasites cause internal bleeding.

Iron is present in all cells of the body. One of iron’s most important duties is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Sixty-five to 75 percent of iron in the body is contained in hemoglobin, or the substance that carries oxygen in red blood cells and gives the cells their red color.

Myoglobin, which takes oxygen to muscle cells, also contains iron. Iron is also used to help produce energy.

Normal Red Blood Cells
Normal Red Blood Cells
Iron Deficient Blood Cells
Iron Deficient Blood Cells

Causes

Iron deficiency can happen if you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet or you are losing too much iron. The reasons for this include:• Blood loss.

Iron is a component of blood, so if you’re bleeding, you are losing iron. This is particularly a problem for women with heavy periods. Having peptic ulcers or a hiatal hernia can cause constant slow bleeding.

; Low iron diet. Eating a vegan diet, which is low in iron-rich foods, can cause a lack of enough iron. Poor dietary habits can as well.; Malabsorption issues. If you have celiac disease, or another problem that prevents nutrients from being absorbed, low iron levels can result.

; Pregnancy. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases, and the iron needs of the fetus compound the problem. Iron supplements (often referred to as ‘horse pills’) are strongly recommended.

Symptoms

A mild iron deficiency may cause symptoms, but they probably won’t be noticed. As the condition gets worse, the symptoms will definitely become noticeable, and intrude on one’s life and ability to function. Some of these symptoms are:• Extreme fatigue, just getting out of bed makes you want to get back in• Pale skin, you look like you haven’t seen the sun in weeks; Weakness, you want me to lift that?; Shortness of breath, forget taking the stairs, the elevator is so much easier; Chest pain, is this what a heart attack feels like?; Headache, oh, my aching head; Dizziness or lightheadedness, is the room spinning or is it just me?; Cold hands and feet, don’t put your cold feet on my back!• Soreness of your tongue, soft foods, please• Brittle nails, another manicure ruined• Pica, the unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice or dirt – are you really going to eat that?

Treatment

Your medical professional is going to take blood to first look at the cells. If iron-deficient anemia is present, the red blood cells will be small and pale.

Second, the medical professional will want to know the amount of blood made up of red blood cells. This is called hematocrit. The normal range for women is between 34.

9 and 44.5 percent, and 38.8 and 50 percent for men.

Next, they’ll look at the hemoglobin levels. Normal ranges are between 12 and 17.5 grams of hemoglobin per deciliter of blood. The last test is for ferritin, which is a protein that assists with iron storage in the body. Low levels indicate low stores of iron.Mild forms of iron deficiency can be corrected or even prevented by cooking food in cast-iron skillets. The most easily absorbed iron from foods is called heme iron.

Heme iron only comes from animal sources. Non-heme sources (which may contain substances like oxalates which bind to iron and reduce absorption) include beans, pistachios, and tofu. These sources contain iron, but it is not absorbed as readily as the heme iron sources. Around 25 to 35 percent of heme iron is absorbed, but only about 3 percent of non-heme iron is absorbed.

Women up to age 50 require 18 mg of iron, men and women over 50 need only 8 mg.Generally, treatment consists of over-the-counter iron tablets taken as instructed by your medical professional. These tablets should be taken on an empty stomach to increase absorption; however, they often cause stomach upset, so if that happens they can be taken with meals. Taking vitamin C, like in the form of orange juice, at the same time can increase absorption. Do not take iron supplements with antacids. The medication in antacids can prevent absorption of iron.

It can take a long time to replenish depleted iron stores. Treatment can last a year or more.

Summary

The causes of iron deficiency anemia are blood loss, a diet low in iron, and malabsorption issues. While the symptoms of a mild deficiency may go unnoticed, moderate to severe deficiency symptoms include fatigue, paleness, weakness, shortness of breath, chest pain, headache, etc. Treatment of mild iron deficiency anemia includes a diet with abundant iron-rich foods. Treatment of more severe cases includes supplementation with iron tablets.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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