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What are Iron Deficiency Anemia Causes?

By Lindsay Kahl
Updated May 17, 2024
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Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body lacks healthy red blood cells because of insufficient iron supply. Red blood cells are necessary because they carry oxygen through the body and dispose of waste, such as carbon dioxide. It is the most common form of anemia and can be caused by a number of things. Some iron deficiency anemia causes include blood loss, lack of iron in the diet and the body’s inability to absorb iron.

Depending on the iron deficiency anemia causes, symptoms of the condition sometimes can go unnoticed. As the deficiency becomes more severe, the symptoms also worsen. Some of the most common symptoms include fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, irritability, paleness, arrhythmia, brittle nails and pica. Pica is when an individual has abnormal cravings for non-nutritive materials, such as ice or starch.

The most common of all iron deficiency anemia causes is blood loss. Women who have severely heavy menstrual periods can develop iron deficiency anemia. Pregnancy is another possible cause of the condition for women, because their bodies need to supply increasing amounts of iron to themselves as well as the developing fetus. Some women who lose blood during childbirth also are at a risk of anemia.

Another one of the common iron deficiency anemia causes that are related to blood loss is internal bleeding. If an individual has chronic blood loss from an ulcer, tumor, polyp, cancer or uterine fibroids, he or she could lose iron over a period of time. Some people experience gastrointestinal bleeding from overuse of aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

The second most common of the iron deficiency anemia causes is a poor diet. People who fail to consume iron-rich foods regularly are at a greater risk of developing the condition. Meat and eggs are just a few excellent sources of iron. Spinach, beans and iron-fortified foods also offer the nutrient.

For some people, iron deficiency anemia can be caused by the body’s inability to absorb iron. This can occur with certain intestinal disorders, such as Chrohn’s disease or celiac disease, and it also can occur after intestinal surgery. Some medications used to decrease stomach acid also hinder the body's absorption of iron.

After it has been identified, iron deficiency anemia is highly treatable over time. If the anemia is caused by a poor diet, it can be treated by increasing intake of iron-rich foods and taking a regular iron supplement. When anemia is because of blood loss caused by an underlying condition, doctors will focus on treating the causal medical problem. A doctor might prescribe oral contraceptives to lessen a woman’s menstrual blood loss or antibiotics to treat a peptic ulcer. In some cases, and individual might require surgery to remove fibroids or polyps.

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