By Dr Saravana K.
Iron deficiency anemia is a condition due to insufficient iron in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen. Initially, it can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify.
Iron deficiency anemia symptoms may include: extreme fatigue; pale skin; weakness; shortness of breath; frequent infections; headache; dizziness; soreness of your tongue; brittle nails; or unusual cravings such as ice, dirt or starch.
- Women with heavy periods are at risk because they lose blood during menstruation.
- Chronic blood loss within the body from a peptic ulcer, a hiatal hernia, a colon polyp or colorectal cancer.
- Gastrointestinal bleeding can result from regular use of some pain relievers.
- A lack of iron in your diet.
- An inability to absorb iron. Iron from food is absorbed into your bloodstream in your small intestine. A disorder which affects your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from digested food or if part of your small intestine has been bypassed or removed surgically it can lead to iron deficiency anemia.
- Red blood cell size and color, low Serum iron levels
- Hemoglobin. Lower than normal hemoglobin levels indicate anemia.
- Ferritin. This protein helps store iron in your body, and a low level of ferritin usually indicates a low level of stored iron.
If your blood work indicates iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may order additional tests to identify an underlying cause, such as:
- Endoscopy. Doctors often check for bleeding from a hiatal hernia, an ulcer or the stomach with the aid of endoscopy. In this procedure, a thin, lighted tube equipped with a video camera is passed down your throat to your stomach. This allows your doctor to view your esophagus — the tube that runs from your mouth to your stomach — and your stomach to look for sources of bleeding.
- Colonoscopy. To rule out lower intestinal sources of bleeding, your doctor may recommend a procedure called colonoscopy. A thin, flexible tube equipped with a video camera is inserted into the rectum and guided to your colon. You’re usually sedated during this test. A colonoscopy allows your doctor to view inside some or all of your colon and rectum to look for internal bleeding.
- Ultrasound. Women may also have a pelvic ultrasound to look for the cause of excess menstrual bleeding, such as uterine fibroids.
Treating underlying causes of iron deficiency
- Depending on the cause, treatment may involve:
- Medications, such as oral contraceptives to lighten heavy menstrual flow
- Antibiotics and other medications to treat peptic ulcers
- Surgery to remove a bleeding polyp, a tumor or a fibroid.
If iron deficiency anemia is severe, you may need iron given intravenously or you may need blood transfusions to help replace iron and hemoglobin quickly.
- Take iron tablets on an empty stomach. If possible, take your iron tablets when your stomach is empty. However, because iron tablets can upset your stomach, you may need to take your iron tablets with meals.
- Don’t take iron with antacids. Medications that immediately relieve heartburn symptoms can interfere with the absorption of iron. Take iron two hours before or four hours after you take antacids.
- Take iron tablets with vitamin C improves the absorption of iron.
- Iron deficiency can’t be corrected overnight. You may need to take iron supplements for several months or longer to replenish your iron reserves.