Iron Deficiency Anemia

There are many types of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common. Iron deficiency anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells caused by too little iron. Without enough iron, your body does not produce enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body's tissues. Iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.

CAUSES

  • Lack of iron in the diet.

  • This may be seen in infants and children, because there is little iron in milk.

  • This may be seen in adults who do not eat enough iron-rich foods.

  • This may be seen in pregnant or breastfeeding women who do not take iron supplements. There is a much higher need for iron intake at these times.

  • Poor absorption of iron, as seen with intestinal disorders.

  • Intestinal bleeding.

  • Heavy periods.

SYMPTOMS

Mild anemia may not be noticeable. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue.

  • Headache.

  • Pale skin.

  • Weakness.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Dizziness.

  • Cold hands and feet.

  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.

DIAGNOSIS

Diagnosis requires a thorough evaluation and physical exam by your caregiver.

  • Blood tests are generally used to confirm iron deficiency anemia.

  • Additional tests may be done to find the underlying cause of your anemia. These may include:

  • Testing for blood in the stool (fecal occult blood test).

  • A procedure to see inside the colon and rectum (colonoscopy).

  • A procedure to see inside the esophagus and stomach (endoscopy).

TREATMENT

  • Correcting the cause of the iron deficiency is the first step.

  • Medicines, such as oral contraceptives, can make heavy menstrual flows lighter.

  • Antibiotics and other medicines can be used to treat peptic ulcers.

  • Surgery may be needed to remove a bleeding polyp, tumor, or fibroid.

  • Often, iron supplements (ferrous sulfate) are taken.

  • For the best iron absorption, take these supplements with an empty stomach.

  • You may need to take the supplements with food if you cannot tolerate them on an empty stomach. Vitamin C improves the absorption of iron. Your caregiver may recommend taking your iron tablets with a glass of orange juice or vitamin C supplement.

  • Milk and antacids should not be taken at the same time as iron supplements. They may interfere with the absorption of iron.

  • Iron supplements can cause constipation. A stool softener is often recommended.

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women will need to take extra iron, because their normal diet usually will not provide the required amount.

  • Patients who cannot tolerate iron by mouth can take it through a vein (intravenously) or by an injection into the muscle.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Ask your dietitian for help with diet questions.

  • Take iron and vitamins as directed by your caregiver.

  • Eat a diet rich in iron. Eat liver, lean beef, whole-grain bread, eggs, dried fruit, and dark green leafy vegetables.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have a fainting episode. Do not drive yourself. Call your local emergency services (911 in U.S.) if no other help is available.

  • You have chest pain, nausea, or vomiting.

  • You develop severe or increased shortness of breath with activities.

  • You develop weakness or increased thirst.

  • You have a rapid heartbeat.

  • You develop unexplained sweating or become lightheaded when getting up from a chair or bed.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.