Iron-deficiency anemia is a type of anemia caused by lack of iron in the body. It is caused by deficiency of hemoglobin, a pigment in the red blood cells that binds oxygen in the lungs and carries it through the bloodstream to all tissues. This type of anemia is most common.
Iron is the main element of hemoglobin. If there is not enough iron in the body, hemoglobin production and its contents in the red blood cells in the bone marrow is significantly reduced. Therefore, there is less hemoglobin that binds the oxygen in the lungs and transports it to all tissues in the body. As a consequence, tissues do not get enough oxygen.
Red blood cells are formed in the bone marrow (more than a million in a second) and circulate in the bloodstream around 120 days before being broken down in the spleen. In healthy persons, there is a balance between the production process and destruction process of red blood cells. Anemia develops when this balance is not in order, which reduces the number of healthy cells, or when hemoglobin is in abnormal level.
This type of anemia is more common in women.
The symptoms of mild iron-deficiency anemia may be unnoticed. However, if the condition gets worse, the symptoms are:
- shortness of breath, even in case of low effort
- headache, dizziness
- cold feet and hands
- fast heartbeat
Other symptoms may occur in case of significant iron deficiency:
- indented nails
- painful ulcers on the skin, usually next to the lips
- smooth, red tongue
In case of severe anemia, there is a risk of chronic heart failure, because the heart has to work hard to supply the body with blood.
The cause of iron-deficiency anemia is self-implied, i.e. there is deficiency of iron. This usually happens due to loss of significant amount of iron due to bleeding. This type of anemia usually occurs in women during heavy meanstrual bleeding. Other causes can be:
- stomach ulcers
- long-term use of aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which can cause bleeding in the stomach lining
- colon cancer, usually in older persons
- blood stool
- poor diet with iron
- celiac disease
- surgery of intestinal tract, where the iron from the food absorbs
The risk factors for iron-deficiency anemia are:
- Vegetarian diet (not consuming various foodstuffs of animal origin)
- Children in development, as they need more iron
- Blood donors
The complications of iron-deficiency anemia arise if left untreated. Those can be:
- Delayed growth (in children)
- Problems during pregnancy – premature birth is possible, low birth weight
- Chronic heart failure or enlarged heart
Prevention of iron-deficiency anemia is possible. You should take care of the type of food, rich in iron and vitamin C. Iron is found in meat (more than in other food), poultry, seafood, leafy vegetables, peas, whereas vitamin C is rich in citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes. For babies, breast milk is essential during the first year.