Fatigue and Iron-Deficiency Anemia

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The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates as many as two billion people worldwide live with iron deficiency anemia, making it the most common nutritional disorder across the globe. If you have iron deficiency anemia, you may already have symptoms which interfere with your daily life. But for some people, extreme fatigue makes living with this condition almost unbearable.

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia. It occurs as a result of your body’s inability to make sufficient amounts of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to tissues throughout your body. Extra rest doesn’t relieve the fatigue because the hemoglobin deficiency persists. And while your fatigue can make it difficult to enjoy life as you once did, it’s possible to manage your condition and return to your active lifestyle. With your doctor’s help, you can control and correct your iron deficiency anemia and find relief from extreme fatigue.

5 Things You Didn't Know About Anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia Explained

Put simply, iron deficiency anemia results from a lack of iron in your body. Insufficient amounts of iron make it impossible for your body to produce the right amount of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin exists as part of every red blood cell in your body, and it’s essential for carrying oxygen to all of your cells.

Usually, your gastrointestinal (GI) tract absorbs iron from the foods you eat. Iron from food travels to the liver, where it’s stored until it’s needed to make new red blood cells. But if you have iron deficiency anemia, you don’t have enough iron in your body to produce healthy new red blood cells. Fewer healthy red blood cells means less hemoglobin carrying oxygen throughout your body, which leaves you feeling tired and weak.

One of the most common symptoms is fatigue, which occurs as a result of too little oxygen reaching the tissues throughout your body. Your fatigue may be bad enough that it interferes with your ability to complete daily tasks. If this is the case, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible to develop a treatment plan that will help correct your anemia and prevent complications.

Other symptoms of iron deficiency anemia range from mild to severe, depending on the iron levels in your body. Your symptoms may also include:

Who’s Most at Risk?

Certain groups of people are more at risk for iron deficiency anemia. These people include:

  • Women, especially those who are menstruating

  • Vegetarians

  • Infants, children, and older adults

  • People who donate blood frequently

  • Endurance athletes

Treatments for Iron Deficiency Anemia

In most cases, treating the underlying cause of iron deficiency anemia—a lack of iron in your body—helps control and correct the symptoms of the condition, including extreme fatigue. But keep in mind that it’s important to have your doctor oversee your treatment, since increasing iron levels in your body by too much can have consequences of its own. Your doctor will need to monitor your blood iron levels to ensure you stay as healthy as possible.

Your anemia treatment will depend on how severe your condition is. If your anemia is mild, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter iron supplements as a way to safely increase the level of iron in your body.

If you have a more severe case of iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend one of several procedures, including:

  • Intravenous (IV) iron therapy to increase blood iron levels

  • Red blood cell transfusion to quickly increase the amount of healthy red blood cells in your body

  • Surgery to correct any internal bleeding

It can be difficult to live with iron deficiency anemia, especially if it causes extreme fatigue that interferes with your daily life. But it’s possible to manage your condition and find relief from fatigue with your doctor’s help and guidance. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan that’s right for you based on your unique medical history and symptoms. Sticking to your doctor’s plan is the best way to improve fatigue and other symptoms of anemia.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 20
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