Is iron deficiency the same thing as anaemia? What are the symptoms?
Iron-deficiency anaemia is the most severe form of iron deficiency. Relatively mild iron deficiency, which may cause no effects at all, is referred to as ‘iron depletion’. If a person is otherwise healthy, symptoms seldom appear before the haemoglobin in your blood drops below a certain level (100g per litre). Some signs that your body is low in iron include tiredness and heart palpitations.
As iron levels continue to fall, symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath and dizziness
- If the anaemia is severe, angina (chest pain), headache and leg pains may occur
- Children may have learning (cognitive) disabilities
- Besides the general symptoms of anaemia, there can be certain symptoms if you have had a long-term case of iron deficiency. These can include a burning sensation in the tongue or a smooth tongue, sores at the corners of the mouth, pica (cravings for specific substances, such as liquorice, chalk, or clay), and spoon-shaped finger- and toe-nails.
Does anaemia due to iron deficiency happen quickly or does it take a long time?
Iron deficiency anaemia comes on gradually. When your rate of iron loss exceeds the amount of iron you absorb from your diet, the first thing that occurs is that iron stores are used up. In this stage, ferritin will be low, but iron and TIBC are usually normal and there is no anaemia. As iron deficiency worsens, blood iron levels fall, TIBC and transferrin rise, and red blood cells may start to become small and pale, but there is still an adequate number of red blood cells. With prolonged or severe iron deficiency, anaemia develops.
What are signs of iron overload in my system?
The most common symptom is pain, as iron accumulates in your body, usually in your . Other symptoms include fatigue and lack of energy, abdominal pain, loss of sex drive, and heart problems. Some people, however, have no symptoms of this condition.
What foods contain the most iron?
If laboratory tests show that you are anaemic, eating the right diet can help. Some good choices for an iron-rich diet include: lean meats, liver, eggs, green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale), wheat germ, whole grain breads and cereals, raisins and molasses. If you have been diagnosed as having iron deficiency anaemia, or you are pregnant or breast feeding, iron in the form of vitamin pills or tablets is usually needed to provide the extra iron needed in these states.
My friend told me I can take too much iron—is that right?
Unless you have iron deficiency or eat a very poor diet, you probably don't need extra iron supplements. If you take in much more iron than is recommended, you may develop , which causes a rise in blood iron and ferritin levels. If you have an inherited disorder called haemochromatosis
, taking extra iron can cause more rapid iron accumulation and possibly accelerate the rate of damage to your organs.
My doctor instructed me to take my iron supplement and then have an iron test done. Why would that be?
Your doctor may suspect that you are not absorbing the iron you need from your supplements and your diet, so she or he may ask that you have your ferritin level checked shortly after you take your iron supplement. If you take iron and then have an abnormally low ferritin test result, you may have an underlying condition affecting the absorption of iron. You may need to be treated for the condition causing the malabsorption for your iron stores to return to normal.