Iron Deficiency Anemia-Symptoms, Treatment, Causes

Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is the most common form of anemia which occurs due to low levels of iron all over the body. Children, infants and older people are at high risk of developing this condition. How does this happen? Iron is essential to produce hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein found in the blood, which transports the oxygen all over the body. Likewise, oxygen is essential for the proper functioning of the body cells. With insufficient iron, the body produces less red blood cells resulting to less hemoglobin that will be distributed throughout your body to function well. Thus, iron deficiency anemia develops. This article closely pays attention to the things that you should know about IDA, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

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Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Insufficient iron level results to iron deficiency anemia. Here are some conditions that can cause your iron levels to decrease.

Loss of blood – In women, heavy menstrual periods, menopause and childbirth are the main culprit resulting to lack of iron. Likewise, gastrointestinal bleeding can also decrease the iron levels of the body which may occur due to peptic ulcer, hemorrhoids, and certain forms of cancer like colon, stomach and esophagus. Moreover, long-term intake of aspirin or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) can also lead to bleeding.

Poor iron absorption – This happens when you are suffering from certain types of diseases such as Crohn’s disease and Celiac disease or has undergone gastric bypass surgery. Also, if you are taking antacid medications, your body’s level of iron decreases because antacids impede iron absorption.

Poor diet – One way to increase the levels of iron is through improved diet. Iron-rich foods include fish, meat and poultry. Aside from these, you can get iron through iron-fortified foods like cereals, breads, tofu, spinach, dried fruits, beans and dark-green leafy vegetables. Iron-rich diet is especially needed for children and pregnant women. So, if your diet is not rich in iron, then, you will most likely develop iron deficiency anemia.

Symptoms of Iron Deficient Anemia

Symptoms of IDA usually depend on the severity of the condition. For mild cases of IDA may or may not have symptoms at all. However, when symptoms already manifest, they usually range from mild indicators to severe. Oftentimes, the early symptoms of IDA apply to all forms of anemia. Symptoms of anemia are characterized by tiredness or fatigue due to the lack of red blood cells that carries oxygen to the different parts of the body coupled with short breathing, pale skin, chest pain, cold feet and hands, headache and dizziness. Besides, anemia among children is characterized by being fussy, short attention span, slow physical and mental development. In fact, treatment should not be delayed to prevent the behavioral and mental problems that may ensue.

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Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency Anemia

If you suspect that you have IDA, then, the wisest decision is to see your physician. Your physician will conduct a series of diagnostic tests, physical exams, and medical history as well as study the symptoms you have experienced to figure out the possible cause of iron deficiency anemia in your case. Diagnostic tests such as complete blood count (CBC) are initiated to get an in-depth analysis on the components of red blood cells like hematocrit, hemoglobin, ferritin including the color and size of your red blood cells. Aside from these diagnostic tests, your physician may conduct further diagnostic examination such as colonoscopy, to figure out internal bleeding on the lower intestine; endoscopy, to examine gastrointestinal bleeding; and ultrasound, to rule out causes of heavy menstrual bleeding. These tests may be requested after initial treatment period and see if the condition persists.


There are different ways to treat iron deficiency anemia but this greatly depends on its cause and severity. Treatment methods include taking iron supplements, dietary changes, medications and even surgery. For severe cases, however, it may require iron therapy, intravenous medications, iron injections and blood transfusion. The main goal of these treatment procedures is to restore the normal level of iron, hemoglobin and red blood cells as well as treat the underlying cause. Let us consider these treatment procedures one by one.

Dietary changes – you will be advised by your physician to enhance your diet to be rich in iron by including iron-rich foods such as liver, beef, turkey, shellfish, fish, pork and chicken. Besides, you can also incorporate these meat sources with non-meat foods like tofu, prune juice, dark-green leafy veggies, spinach, dried fruits, peas, lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, beans as well as iron-fortified cereals and bread. Although the body seems to readily absorb the iron found in meat, including non-meat iron sources still helps in increasing the levels of iron in your body.

Iron Supplements – this is usually incorporated with other treatment methods like dietary changes to accelerate your iron levels quickly. In fact, iron supplements are capable of increasing your level of iron within months. However, overdose of iron supplements is very harmful that is why you need only take what is prescribed by your physician. Keep them away from children’s reach to avoid the incidence of iron overdose in children. Moreover, you must be aware that taking iron supplement fosters some side effects which include heartburn, dark stools, constipation and stomach irritation.

Vitamin C supplementation – vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron and the best sources are citrus fruits like grapefruits, oranges, tangerines and the like. Better yet, consume fresh fruits, veggies and juices as they are rich in Vitamin C compared to canned ones. But, if you are taking some form of medication, you’d better ask your physician whether it is alright to eat grapefruit as it is known to affect the intensity of several medicines.

Prevention is the best shield against iron deficiency anemia by including iron in your daily diet. If your diet lacks iron, then, iron supplements can help. Additional iron is especially needed by pregnant women and lactating mothers. Children suffering from IDA are most likely to get infections easily. Hence, it is very important for their IDA to be treated immediately. Complications due to iron deficiency anemia is rare but it may happen, that is why it is very important to have follow-up check ups with your physician.

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