Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is the most common type of anemia and as the name implies, it is characterized by low levels of iron. Iron is an integral part of hemoglobin, a protein found on red blood cells which allows for the transport of oxygen to the body. Since oxygen is necessary for the utilization of energy sources, individuals with IDA often experience long term fatigue.
Other signs and symptoms of IDA include:
- Feeling irritable and/or anxious
- An inability to focus
- Pale skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair loss
- A sore tongue
The degree of IDA can range from mild, to severe and even life threatening.
Iron levels can decrease due to: an increased rate of loss (e.g. via bleeding), a decrease in dietary intake, or a decrease in the ability to absorb consumed iron (e.g. in some gastrointestinal conditions).
Who is at Risk?
IDA is more common in women than men, and vegetarians and vegans have a higher prevalence of IDA. The demand for iron increases during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and women who have frequent and/or heavy menstrual cycles have greater iron requirements. Patients with gastrointestinal conditions such as Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease often have a limited ability to absorb iron.
If low iron levels can be attributed to inadequate dietary intake, efforts should be made to increase the consumption of iron-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, soybeans, meat, poultry, fish and fortified cereals (e.g. iron is added to the cereal).
Alternatively, daily oral iron supplements can be taken. It is worth noting that taking a multi-vitamin may not be provide enough iron to counteract anemia, and that iron supplements are only available with a doctor’s prescription or dose recommendation.
In patients with problems with iron absorption, iron may be directly infused into the bloodstream or the muscle.
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