Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia, a condition in which the red blood cells of the body are not carrying a sufficient amount of oxygen to the organs. Iron-deficiency anemia is the result of too few red blood cells caused by insufficient amounts of iron in the body. Iron is a mineral needed to make hemoglobin, the pigment that carries oxygen in the blood. A person can become iron deficient if they have too little iron in their diet, are not absorbing iron adequately, or loss of blood. In children, iron deficiency can indicate lead poisoning as well.
Iron-deficiency anemia can effect anyone, but is more common in children and pregnant women than any other group of people. Iron-deficiency anemia effects women more than men because women lose blood through menstruation and also because their bodies store less iron than men. Pregnant women are often provided with iron supplements as iron deficiency anemia effects approximately 50% of pregnant women and iron is essential to fetal development.
Other conditions can cause iron-deficiency anemia including ulcers and certain types of cancer. The symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, headache, irritability, pale skin, and a bluish tinge to the whites of the eyes. Iron-deficiency anemia develops slowly over time and may not be detectable for several months.
Simple blood tests that measure hemoglobin are usually done to diagnose anemia. Other tests may be performed to help diagnose the cause of anemia. If iron-deficiency anemia is suspected, doctors will want to determine the cause, especially in older male patients and postmenopausal women. In most cases, iron-deficiency anemia can be treated with oral iron supplements. Hemoglobin levels generally return to normal within a few months. Mild constipation is the most common side effect of iron supplements and generally subsides within a few weeks.
People who suspect an iron deficiency, either because of dietary concerns or symptoms, should talk to their health care provider. The doctor will most likely order a blood test to confirm anemia and may or may not require further testing to determine the cause. The majority of cases of iron-deficiency anemia are caused by lack of iron in the diet and are easily treated.