10 Things to Know About Iron-Deficiency Anemia

  • Young woman
    Get educated about iron-deficiency anemia.
    Feeling totally wrung out? You may have iron-deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia is a condition that develops when your body doesn’t have enough iron to produce enough hemoglobin, the substance in your red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen all around your body. When your tissues don’t get enough oxygen, you may experience fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. But there’s good news: it’s treatable. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Cutting tofu with knife
    1. Even if you’re eating enough iron, it may not be absorbed by your body.
    As you might expect from the name of the condition, a major cause for iron-deficiency anemia is a lack of iron. Some people don’t eat enough iron-rich foods, like spinach, lentils, tofu, beans, and various types of meat. Meanwhile, others have trouble absorbing iron from their food into their bloodstream. And others may be taking a medication that reduces their body’s ability to absorb enough iron to produce enough hemoglobin; certain anti-ulcer medications called H2 receptor blockers fall into this category.

  • surgery
    2. Blood loss can be another contributing factor.
    Some people develop iron-deficiency anemia after undergoing surgery or experiencing some other situation in which they lost blood, like giving birth. With a lower blood volume, they have fewer red blood cells to carry that oxygen-rich blood around the body. Internal bleeding, like from ulcers, can also play a role in causing iron-deficiency anemia. Blood loss from menstruation, nosebleeds or bleeding from the kidneys or bladder can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, too.

  • Woman Resting on Sofa
    3. Women and young children are at highest risk.
    Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, but the two groups with the highest risk are women, and young children, including babies. Women who experience heavy bleeding during their menstrual periods are especially at risk. Older adults (over age 65) and people with certain types of gastrointestinal diseases, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, are also more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia.

  • Pensive pregnant woman holding stomach looking away
    4. Pregnancy ups your chances of iron-deficiency anemia, too.
    Women in general are at increased risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia, and this is particularly the case for pregnant women. Your body’s blood volume increases when you’re gestating a baby, meaning that you need even more iron. Talk to your doctor about taking an iron supplement along with your prenatal vitamin.

  • woman resting her head
    5. Fatigue is a telltale symptom.
    One of the most obvious signs of iron-deficiency anemia is a pervasive sense of fatigue. You feel drained, droopy, and maybe even a little cold. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and sometimes even a fast heartbeat. Some people even develop a compulsion to chew ice.

  • Senior doctor checking patient's test result
    6. You’ll need a test to be sure of your diagnosis.
    It’s possible you have a pretty good idea that you’re anemic. You may have been experiencing the symptoms for some time, or you may have a history of anemia. But your doctor will want to run a blood test to gauge your hemoglobin levels and your iron levels. If they’re too low, you’ll get a diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia. Then your doctor can talk to you about the most appropriate treatment for you.

  • group of broccoli
    7. You can boost the iron in your diet.
    One of the first-line treatments for many people diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia is diet. That means it’s time to start eating more iron-rich foods. Leafy greens like spinach, collard greens, broccoli and kale are a great place to start. You can also turn to oysters, shellfish, sardines, beef, lamb, and pork—including organ meats like liver. If you’re a cereal fan, make sure you’re eating iron-fortified cereals, as well as pastas, breads, and grains.

  • capsule-pills
    8. Many people can take oral iron supplements to increase iron levels.
    Many people with iron-deficiency anemia need to take an oral supplement to build up their iron levels. However, be sure to get your doctor’s advice before you start downing those iron pills, because iron supplements can interfere with other medications that you might be taking. For example, iron can interfere with the thyroid replacement hormone called levothyroxine, so you would need to have your thyroid levels closely monitored if you took that medication along with an iron pill. Additionally, some people experience constipation when taking iron pills, so your doctor may suggest also trying a stool softener or laxative. If gastrointestinal side effects are a problem for you, a slow-release iron supplement may be easier for you to tolerate.

  • Fresh orange juice
    9. Need some extra help with oral iron? Try Vitamin C.
    If you’ve ever been asked to take an iron supplement, chances are that your healthcare provider suggested you also increase your vitamin C intake. Vitamin C can help your body absorb more iron from vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts and iron-fortified foods. Your doctor may recommend taking a vitamin C supplement or enjoying a glass of orange juice with your iron pill each day.

  • female nurse holding up infusion bag
    10. IV iron supplementation is necessary for some people.
    Unfortunately, some people can’t take an oral iron supplement. However, they do have another option for boosting their iron levels: intravenous iron supplementation. This is an option that’s often appropriate for people who lose blood from bleeding in their gastrointestinal tract or during kidney dialysis. It’s often used for people undergoing high-blood loss surgery in the near future. And sometimes it’s even used for people with various types of inflammatory bowel diseases who find that oral iron cause intolerable irritation to their GI tract. You have to receive this treatment in a clinic or hospital under supervision.

Iron Deficiency Anemia Facts | Iron Deficiency Anemia

About The Author

Jennifer Larson has more than 15 years of professional writing experience with a specialization in healthcare. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and memberships in the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Education Writers Association.
  1. Bayraktar UD, Bayraktar S. Treatment of iron deficiency anemia associated with gastrointestinal tract diseases. World J Gastroenterol 2010;16(22):2720-2725. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2883127/pdf/WJG-16-2720.pdf
  2. Explore Iron-Deficiency Anemia. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ida/causes#
  3. Iron-Deficiency Anemia. American Society of Hematology. http://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/Iron-Deficiency.aspx
  4. Iron Deficiency Anemia: Self-management. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/manage/ptc-20266647
  5. Iron Deficiency Anemia: Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20266514
  6. Iron Deficiency Anemia: Treatment. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/t...
  7. Possible Interactions with: Iron. University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement-interaction/possible-interactions-with-iron
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 9
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