Iron Deficiency Anemia
Nutritional Report by Jessina Esqueda
What is it?
Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. There are many types of anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.
Iron is a key part of red blood cells. Without iron, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively. Your body normally gets iron through your diet. It also reuses iron from old red blood cells.
You get iron deficiency anemia when your body's iron stores run low. This can occur when:
- You lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace
- Your body does not do a good job of absorbing iron
- Your body is able to absorb iron, but you are not eating enough foods that contain iron
- Your body needs more iron than normal (such as if you are pregnant or breastfeeding)
You may not get enough iron in your diet if:
- You are a strict vegetarian
- You are an older adult and do not eat a full diet
You may have no symptoms if the anemia is mild.
Most of the time, symptoms are mild at first and develop slowly. Symptoms may include:
- Feeling grumpy
- Feeling weak or tired more often than usual, or with exercise
- Problems concentrating or thinking
As the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:
- Blue color to the whites of the eyes
- Brittle nails
- Desire to eat ice or other non-food things (pica)
- Light-headedness when you stand up
- Pale skin color
- Shortness of breath
- Sore tongue
Symptoms of the conditions that cause iron deficiency anemia include:
- Dark, tar-colored stools or blood
- Heavy menstrual bleeding (women)
- Pain in the upper belly (from ulcers)
- Weight loss (in people with cancer)
Exams and tests
To diagnose anemia, your doctor may order these blood tests:
- Hematocrit and hemoglobin (red blood cell measures)
- RBC indices
Tests to check iron levels in your blood include:
- Bone marrow exam (rare)
- Iron binding capacity(TIBC) in the blood
- Serum ferritin
- Serum iron level
Tests that may be done to look for the cause of iron deficiency:
- Fecal occult blood test
- Upper endoscopy
Treatment may include taking iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods.
Iron supplements (most often ferrous sulfate) are needed to build up the iron stores in your body. Most of the time, your doctor or nurse will measure your iron levels before starting supplements.Your hematocrit should return to normal after 2 months of iron therapy. You will need to keep taking iron for another 6 to 12 months to replace the body's iron stores in the bone marrow.
- Chicken and turkey
- Dried lentils, peas, and beans
- Meats (liver is the highest source)
- Peanut butter
- Whole-grain bread
Other sources include:
- Raisins, prunes, and apricots
- Spinach, kale, and other greens
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