What is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia means that you do not have enough iron in your blood or that the iron does not become functional. This condition has several causes and can cause symptoms such as headaches and fatigue. You can find more information below.

What is iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs when your body does not have enough iron. People with mild or moderate iron deficiency anemia may not have any signs or symptoms. More severe iron deficiency anemia can cause tiredness, fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

If your doctor diagnoses you with iron deficiency anemia, your treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Your doctor may recommend healthy dietary changes, iron supplements, intravenous iron therapy for mild to moderate iron deficiency anemia, or a red blood cell transfusion for severe iron deficiency anemia.

As with any underlying bleeding, it may be necessary to address the cause of your iron deficiency. If not diagnosed or treated, iron deficiency anemia can cause serious complications in children, such as heart failure and developmental delays.

Causes of iron deficiency anemia

Your body needs iron to make healthy red blood cells. Anemia from iron deficiency usually develops over time because your body’s iron intake is too low. Low iron intake may be due to medical conditions that consume less than the recommended daily amount of iron and make it harder for your body to absorb iron from the gastrointestinal tract .

The reasons are detailed below under the headings:

blood loss

When you lose blood, you lose iron. Some conditions or medications can cause blood loss and lead to iron deficiency anemia. Causes of widespread blood loss leading to iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract due to ulcers, colon cancer , regular use of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Some rare genetic conditions, such as hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia , that cause bleeding in the intestines
  • Frequent blood donation
  • Frequent blood tests, especially in infants and young children
  • heavy menstrual periods
  • injury or surgery
  • urinary tract bleeding

Lack of food containing iron

Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by less than the recommended daily amount of iron. Recommended daily amounts of iron will depend on your age, gender, and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Health problems that prevent the absorption of iron

Even if you consume the recommended daily amount of iron, your body may not be able to absorb it. Some conditions or medications can reduce your body’s ability to absorb iron and lead to iron deficiency anemia. These conditions include:

  • Intestinal and digestive conditions such as celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases , including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Helicobacter pylori infection
  • Some surgeries (such as weight loss surgery)
  • Some rare genetic conditions, such as a TMRPSS6 gene mutation that causes a person’s body to produce too much of a hormone called hepcidin (hepcidin prevents the gut from getting iron)
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Other medical conditions

Other medical conditions that can lead to iron deficiency anemia include:

  • End-stage kidney failure with blood loss during dialysis: People with chronic kidney disease often also take other medications such as proton pump inhibitors, anticoagulants or blood thinners that can cause iron deficiency anemia. Proton pump inhibitors interfere with iron absorption, and blood thinners increase the likelihood of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Congestive heart failure or inflammation from obesity: These chronic conditions can lead to inflammation that can cause iron deficiency anemia .

Who is at risk for demi-deficiency anemia?

Your risk of iron deficiency anemia may be increased due to your age, unhealthy environments, family health history, and genetics , lifestyle habits, or gender.


There may be an increased risk of iron deficiency at certain ages, such as:

  • Babies aged 6 to 12 months are particularly at risk if they are exclusively breastfed or fed formula that is not fortified with iron.
  • Children aged 1 to 2 years are at increased risk, especially if they drink a lot of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is low in iron.
  • Young people need more iron than adults because they are in the growth stage.
  • Older adults, especially those over 65, are also at risk.

unhealthy environment

Children who have lead around or in the waters around them are also at risk. Lead interferes with the body’s ability to make hemoglobin.

Family medical history and genetics

Von Willebrand disease is an inherited bleeding disorderthat affects the blood’s ability to clotThis makes it harder to stop bleeding and can increase the risk of iron deficiency anemia from trauma, surgery or heavy menstrual periods.

Individuals with the hemophilia gene, including symptomatic female carriers with heavy menstrual periods, may be at risk for iron deficiency anemia.

lifestyle habits

Certain lifestyle habits may increase your risk of iron deficiency anemia, such as:

  • Vegetarian or vegan diet: Not eating iron-rich foods like meat and fish can cause you to get less than the recommended daily amount of iron.
  • Frequent blood donations: People who donate blood frequently may be at risk for iron deficiency anemia.
  • Endurance activities and athletes: Athletes, especially young women, are at risk for iron deficiency. Endurance athletes lose iron through their gastrointestinal tract. They also lose iron through the breakdown of red blood cells, called hemolysis .


Girls and women between the ages of 14 and 50 need more iron than boys and men of the same age. Women are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia in certain conditions, including:

  • During your menstrual period, it is possible to experience iron deficiency, especially if you are experiencing heavy periods.
  • You may be consuming less than the recommended daily amount of iron during pregnancy, after giving birth, or while breastfeeding . This is because your need for iron increases during these periods of growth and development, and it can be difficult to get the recommended amount from food alone.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia can range from mild to severe. People with mild or moderate iron deficiency anemia may not have any signs or symptoms .

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Symptoms usually worsen as anemia becomes more severe. If left untreated, iron deficiency can cause complications and be life-threatening.

The symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are listed below:

  • Brittle nails or peeling nails
  • Cracks around the mouth
  • pale skin
  • swelling or pain of the tongue

Other common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • chest pain
  • coldness in hands and feet
  • difficulty concentrating
  • dizziness
  • Fatigue (most common symptom)
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat (this is a sign of more serious iron deficiency anemia)
  • Unusual cravings for certain unhealthy foods
  • restless legs syndrome
  • Shortness of breath
  • feeling weak

Diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia

He or she can detect iron deficiency anemia during routine blood tests when you visit your doctor for a checkup. To diagnose iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may ask you questions about your risk factors, perform a physical exam, order blood tests or other diagnostic tests.

physical examination

Your doctor may ask about your medical history and the symptoms you are experiencing, and may do a physical exam to look for any of the following symptoms that may help diagnose iron deficiency anemia:

  • Can check for bleeding
  • Can check if the lining of your tongue, nails, or eyelids is pale
  • may check your nails to see if they are pale or brittle and how quickly they fill with blood
  • Can listen to your heart for fast or irregular heartbeats
  • Can listen to your lungs to determine if you are breathing fast or irregularly
  • He or she may examine your abdomen to check the size of your abdomen and spleen

blood tests

Based on the results of blood tests to screen for iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may order the following blood tests to diagnose iron deficiency anemia:

  • Complete blood count (to see if there is normal red blood cell counts, hemoglobin or hematocrit levels, or mean corpuscular volume to suggest anemia)
  • Measurement of the amount of iron in your blood (even if the total amount of iron in your body is low, the level of iron in your blood may be normal, so other iron tests are also done)
  • Ferritin test (ferritin is a protein that helps your body store iron)
  • Reticulocyte count (counting to see if this is a lower than normal number of very young red blood cells)
  • Peripheral smear (to see if your red blood cells appear smaller and paler than normal when viewed under a microscope)

Gastrointestinal bleeding tests

Your doctor may order the following procedures to see if gastrointestinal bleeding is causing iron deficiency anemia and to guide treatment:

  • Stool occult blood test to check for blood in the stool: Blood in the stool is suggestive of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract and may require further testing.
  • Upper endoscopy to look for bleeding in the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine: A tube with a small camera is inserted through your mouth into your stomach and upper small intestine to view the lining of your upper digestive tract.
  • Colonoscopy: This is done to look for bleeding or other abnormalities, such as an enlargement or cancer of the lining of the colon. For this test, a small camera is inserted into the colon under sedation to view the colon directly.
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Iron deficiency anemia treatment

Treatment for anemia caused by iron deficiency will depend on its cause and severity. Treatments may include iron supplements, procedures, surgery, and dietary changes. Severe iron deficiency anemia may require intravenous iron therapy or a blood transfusion.

iron supplements

Your doctor may recommend that you take iron pills or iron supplements, also called oral iron, once or several times a day to increase the iron in your body. This is the most common treatment for iron deficiency. It usually takes three to six months to replenish your iron stores.

Iron supplements are sometimes recommended by your doctor during pregnancy. If your condition is caused by certain rare genetic conditions, such as a TMRPSS6 gene mutation, you may not respond to oral iron supplements.

Iron supplements are generally not recommended for people without iron deficiency anemia. Because too much iron can damage your organs.

Do not stop taking prescribed iron supplements without first talking to your doctor. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing side effects such as a bad metallic taste, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or stomach upset. Your doctor may suggest options such as taking supplements with food, lowering the dose, trying a different iron supplement, or taking intravenous iron.


If iron supplements alone cannot replenish your body’s iron levels, your doctor may recommend a procedure that includes:

  • Iron therapy or intravenous iron: This is sometimes used to deliver iron through a blood vessel to increase iron levels in the blood. One benefit of intravenous iron is that it usually only takes one or a few sessions to replenish the amount of iron in your body. People with severe iron deficiency anemia and chronic conditions such as kidney disease or celiac disease are more likely to receive intravenous iron. You may experience vomiting, headache, or other side effects immediately after intravenous iron, but these usually go away within a day or two.
  • Red blood cell transfusions: These can be used to quickly increase the amount of red blood cells and iron in the blood in people with severe iron deficiency anemia. Your doctor may recommend it if you have serious complications of iron deficiency anemia, such as chest pain.
  • Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be needed to stop the bleeding.

Other treatments

If you have chronic kidney disease and iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend erythropoiesis stimulating agents . These drugs stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. These drugs are usually used with intravenous iron or when iron therapy alone is not sufficient.

Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.

What is good for iron deficiency anemia?

To help you meet your recommended daily iron level, your doctor may recommend the following:

  • Adopting healthy lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating habits that benefit the heart
  • Increasing your daily intake of iron-rich foods to help treat your iron deficiency anemia
  • Increasing your vitamin C intake to help your body absorb iron
  • avoiding drinking black tea, which reduces iron absorption

Remember, all this should be done under the supervision of a doctor.

What to eat for iron deficiency?

  • Foods that are good sources of iron include baked beans, dried fruits, eggs, lean red meat, salmon, iron-enriched breads and cereals, peas, tofu, dried fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables.
  • Foods rich in vitamin C , such as oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes, can help increase your iron absorption.

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