What is Iron Deficiency?
Iron deficiency, also known as iron deficiency anemia, occurs when your body does not have enough of the mineral iron. Your body needs iron in order to create hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen.
Sometimes, iron deficiency is mild enough that there are no noticeable symptoms. However, as the body becomes more deficient in iron, signs and symptoms may include:
- Pale skin.
- Weakness or extreme fatigue.
- Chest pain or shortness of breath.
- Dizziness or headache.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Brittle nails.
- Inflammation or soreness of the tongue.
- Poor appetite.
- Cravings for unusual substances such as dirt or ice.
What Causes Iron Deficiency?
If you are not consuming enough iron naturally or are losing too much iron, your body cannot produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin, and iron deficiency will eventually occur. Common causes of iron deficiency include blood loss (heavy periods or chronic blood loss within the body), a lack of iron in your diet, pregnancy or the inability to absorb iron due to an intestinal disorder.
How is Iron Deficiency Diagnosed?
In order to diagnose iron deficiency, your provider will run some tests to examine different levels including your red blood cells, hematocrit, hemoglobin and ferritin. He or she may also have you undergo endoscopy, colonoscopy or ultrasound if your bloodwork shows you may have iron deficiency anemia.
Iron Deficiency Treatment Options
While iron deficiency cannot be corrected overnight, it can be improved over time with iron supplements. Over-the-counter iron tablets can be taken to help replenish iron in your body. Your provider will speak with you regarding your correct dose. There are some important things you should remember when it comes to properly taking iron supplements, including:
- If you can, try to take iron supplements on an empty stomach. However, if they give you an upset stomach, you can take them with meals.
- Do not take iron with antacids. Be sure to take your iron tablets two hours before or four hours after taking antacids.
- Take your iron supplements along with vitamin C. This can help to improve the absorption of iron.
In cases where iron deficiency is severe, iron may need to be given intravenously or blood transfusions may be necessary to help replace hemoglobin and iron quickly.
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