Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, and it occurs when the body is lacking in the mineral iron. The body needs iron to make a protein called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the body’s tissues. Oxygen is essential for tissues and muscles to function effectively. When there isn’t enough iron in the blood stream, the body does not get the amount of oxygen it needs.
A diet that is deficient in iron can cause anaemia. Iron rich foods are meat, eggs, and green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Pregnant women who require greater amounts of blood to support their growing babies and young, growing children may need even more iron-rich foods in their diet.
External loss of blood as in heavy menstrual bleeding, blood loss during childbirth or due to injury are also common causes of iron deficiency anemia. Normal menstrual bleeding lasts for four to five days and the amount of blood lost ranges from 15 to 20 cc. Women with excess menstrual bleeding typically bleed for more than seven days and lose twice as much blood as normal.
Certain medical conditions which cause internal bleeding, can also lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Examples include ulcer in the stomach, polyps (tissue growths) in the colon or intestines, or colon cancer. Regular use of certain drugs like aspirin, can also cause bleeding in the stomach.
Sometimes even though one is taking an iron rich diet the body is unable to absorb the available iron. In conditions like celiac disease, surgeries like gastric bypass iron absorption is affected eventually leading to iron deficiency anaemia.
Anemia can occur in both men and women of any age and from any ethnic group. Some people who are at greater risk for iron deficiency anaemia include women of childbearing age, pregnant women, people with poor diets, people who donate blood frequently, infants and children, especially those born prematurely or experiencing a growth spurt and vegetarians who are not taking iron-rich food.
Mild anaemia may not produce any symptoms. In moderate to severe anaemia symptoms may include, general fatigue and weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, a craving to eat mud, ice, or clay, a tingling or crawling feeling in the legs, tongue swelling or soreness, cold hands and feet, fast or irregular heartbeat, brittle or spoon shaped nails
A complete blood cell (CBC) test and a blood picture is mandatory. It will measure the red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), the haemoglobin level, the haematocrit and platelets and give a clear picture of iron deficiency.
Other tests that may be carried out are iron level in your blood, ferritin levels, total iron-binding capacity (TIBC) and transferrin levels.
If there is any indication that internal bleeding could be the problem further tests may be needed. One test is fecal occult test to look for blood in your feces. Blood in your feces may indicate bleeding in your intestine.
An endoscopy and a pelvic ultrasound might also be required,
Anaemia can lead to irregular heartbeat. In severe cases, it can lead to heart failure or an enlarged heart.mIn severe cases of iron deficiency, during pregnancy, a child may be born prematurely or with a low birth weight. Infants and children who are severely deficient in iron may experience a delay in their growth and development. They may also be more likely to experience infections. It is therefore important to prevent this type of anaemia.
Diets that are rich in iron include red meat, eggs, dark green, leafy vegetables, beans, dried fruits, nuts, iron-fortified cereals. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron so taking orange juice or citrus fruit can also help.
Iron deficiency anaemia is easy to treat. Iron tablets can help restore iron levels in your body. If possible, the iron tablets should be taken on an empty stomach, which helps the body absorb them better. If they upset the stomach, they can take them with meals or with a citrus drink. Supplements may be needed for several months. Iron supplements may cause constipation or stools that are black in colour.
Iron supplements won’t help if excess bleeding causes the deficiency. Hormone pills can reduce the excessive amount of menstrual bleeding each month to normal levels.
In the most severe cases, a blood transfusion can replace iron and blood loss quickly.