Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition caused by low iron stored in the body. This condition results from blood loss, poor absorption of iron, or inadequate iron intake. Iron is necessary for maintaining several body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, which is a molecule in the blood that helps carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency anemia develops when the body doesn’t have sufficient iron to produce red blood cells.
The symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, weakness, shortness of breath, and chest pain. A person suffering from iron deficiency anemia may also experience headache, pounding in the ears and a craving for ice or other substances. Severe iron deficiency anemia can lead to complications such as infections and heart conditions. It can also affect growth and development in children.
Certain people have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia than others. These groups include women and young children. Women that are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth have an increased risk of developing an iron deficiency, as well as women that experience heavy menstrual periods. People that have undergone major surgery or physical trauma are also at risk.
Children that consume between 16 to 24 ounces, or more of cow’s milk daily are also at risk. Cow’s milk can decrease the ability to absorb iron, and may lead to blood loss by irritating the intestinal lining of the stomach. Vegans and vegetarians may also suffer from an iron deficiency since iron is not absorbed as well from vegetables as it is from meat. People with certain health conditions such as peptic ulcer or inflammatory bowel disease may also be at an increased risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia can be treated successfully, but the treatment will depend on the severity and underlying cause of the condition. Treatment typically includes increasing the iron intake. This is often done through dietary changes and iron supplements. Foods such as beef, pork, chicken and sardines can increase the levels of dietary iron. Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and kale are good sources of iron. Legumes such as lima beans and peas are also rich in iron. If a person is not getting enough iron from his diet, a physician may prescribe an iron tablet for supplementation. Severe iron deficiency anemia may require admittance to a hospital for iron injections, intravenous iron therapy or blood transfusions.