People with anemia have blood with lower than normal hemoglobin levels. The red blood cells in our blood are the hemoglobin. Anemia comes in a many different forms, but iron deficiency anemia is by and large the most common type. However, it can also be caused by a lack of folate or vitamin B12.
Iron Deficiency Symptoms
The signs of iron deficiency are very distinct, including:
• Lethargy (where energy levels drop very low)
• Changes in appearance, such as dry nails and pale complexions
• Dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to speak to your medical professional and have a blood test done. However, a large amount of people experience slow blood loss and as a result do not experience any symptoms at all.
Causes of Iron Deficiency
Anemia caused by iron deficiency happens when the levels of iron in the body drop below healthy levels. Iron is found naturally in dried fruit, meat and a number of vegetables. The body uses iron to build new hemoglobin. The red blood cells are responsible for carrying and storing oxygen in the body. Hence, when the levels of iron drop too low, organs and tissue will not receive sufficient amounts of oxygen.
There are quite a number of medical conditions that can cause iron deficiency anemia. These include:
• Bleeding in the intestines and stomach (most commonly found in women post their menopause), usually caused by peptic ulcers, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), bowel cancer and stomach cancer.
• Heavy periods in women who have not gone through the change are also a very common cause of anemia.
• Pregnancy is also a common cause for anemia, as the body requires further iron to support the baby.
• Similarly, giving birth is a common reason for the development of iron deficiency anemia, particularly if there is significant blood loss during the birthing process, something that is seen particularly often in women who have a caesarean section.
• Men and women alike often have iron deficiency after accidents or surgery that lead to large amounts of blood loss.
Iron deficiency in women, as you can see, is far more common than iron deficiency in men.
How Is Iron Deficiency Treated?
Iron deficiency treatment is very easy – it involves little else than taking iron supplements, in order to boost the natural levels found in the body. It is generally very effective and there are little to no known complications. Unfortunately, it can take several weeks for the supplements to take effect, so those with very severe anemia may need blood transfusions every once in a while. If you are placed on prescription strength iron tablets (which are stronger than the ones you can purchase over the counter), you will need to be monitored every few weeks to see whether your levels of hemoglobin have risen again. It is also very important that the cause of anemia is determined, so that it doesn’t return.
Foods to Eat for Extra Iron
A number of foods are very good as a source of iron. These include:
• Dark green leafy vegetables, including curly kale, watercress and spinach
• Dried fruits
There are also a number of foods as well as medicines that make it much more difficult for your body to absorb iron naturally. Some of these include:
• Calcium, found in milk and other dairy products
• Tea and coffee
• Antacid medication (used to relieve severe cases of indigestion)
Iron Deficiency Complications
If left untreated, anemia can lower your immune system. Hence, it is far more likely that you will catch illnesses and infections. Your immune system is the natural defense system of your body and if this is not functioning properly, you will find you catch colds and flues easier. However, with treatment, this should not last very long. If left untreated, or if the case if very severe, however, there are other, more serious complications as well. These tend to affect the lungs and the heart and include:
• A heartbeat that is abnormally fast (tachycardia)
• Heart failure, if your body is no longer able to pump blood in an efficient manner.
• Complications in pregnant women, to both baby and themselves