Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Patient education: Anemia caused by low iron

What is anemia? Anemia is the term doctors and nurses use when a person has too few red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells in your blood that carry oxygen. If you have too few red blood cells, your body might not get all the oxygen it needs.

ANEMIA SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS Many people with iron deficiency anemia have no symptoms at all. Of those who do, the most common symptoms include:

●Weakness

●Headache

●Irritability

●Fatigue

●Difficulty exercising (due to shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat)

●Brittle nails

●Sore tongue

●Restless legs syndrome

●Pica (an abnormal craving to eat non-food items, such as clay or dirt, paper products, or cornstarch)

●Pagophagia (an abnormal craving to eat ice)

ANEMIA CAUSES Two common causes of iron deficiency anemia are blood loss (most common) and decreased absorption of iron from food.

Blood loss — The source of blood loss may be obvious, such as in women who have heavy menstrual bleeding or multiple pregnancies, or a person with a known bleeding ulcer. In other cases, the source of the blood loss is not visible, as in someone who has chronic bleeding in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract (stomach, small intestine, colon). This may appear as diarrhea with black, tarry stools, or, if the blood loss is very slow, the stool may appear normal. Donating blood can also cause iron deficiency, especially if it is done on a regular basis.

Decreased iron absorption — Normally, the body absorbs iron from food through the GI tract. If the GI tract is not functioning correctly, as is the case in people with certain conditions such as celiac disease, autoimmune gastritis, other forms of stomach inflammation, gastric bypass surgery (for weight loss), or other forms of weight loss surgery, an inadequate amount of iron may be absorbed, leading to iron deficiency anemia.

Other causes — A common cause of iron deficiency anemia in developing countries is a lack of foods that contain iron. However, this is rarely seen in adults in developed countries such as the United States because many foods contain iron, and others have added iron (breakfast cereal, bread, pasta). Iron is also available in some plant-based foods.

Pregnant and postpartum women may develop iron deficiency anemia because of the increased iron requirements of the growing fetus and placenta and blood loss at the time of delivery.

Is there a test for anemia? Yes, your doctor or nurse can test your blood for anemia. The things they most often check are the “hemoglobin level” and “hematocrit.” These show up on a test called the “complete blood count” or “CBC.”

How is iron deficiency anemia treated? The first step in treatment is to find out whether your anemia is caused by blood loss. If so, your doctor or nurse will want to find out why you are bleeding.

Blood loss can be related to stomach ulcers, bowel problems, or other issues. In women, blood loss can be related to heavy periods.

Whatever the cause of your anemia, your doctor or nurse can treat it by giving you iron. If the anemia is severe, you might need a blood transfusion. You might also need treatment for the cause of the bleeding.

People with iron deficiency anemia need to get iron. Eating foods with iron will not do enough to cure the anemia. You can get extra iron in pills or through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an “IV.” Most people get it in pills. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how much to take, and for how long.

Iron pills can cause side effects such as upset stomach and constipation (too few bowel movements). If you have side effects, ask your doctor or nurse what to do. They can suggest ways to reduce these side effects or switch you to IV iron.

Adopted from UpToDate

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