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Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Iron is an important building block for red blood cells.
When your body does not have enough iron, it will make fewer red blood cells or red blood cells that are too small. This is called iron deficiency anemia.
Anemia - iron deficiency
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia.
Red blood cells bring oxygen to the body's tissues. Healthy red blood cells are made in your bone marrow. Red blood cells move through your body for 3 to 4 months. Parts of your body then remove old 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 and by re-using iron from old red blood cells.
You get iron deficiency anemia when your body's iron stores run low. You can get iron deficiency if:
Iron loss can be due to bleeding. Common causes of bleeding are:
The body may not absorb enough iron in the diet due to:
You may not get enough iron in the diet if:
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:
As the anemia gets worse, symptoms may include:
Symptoms of the conditions that cause iron deficiency anemia include:
To diagnose anemia, your doctor may order these blood tests:
Tests to check iron levels in your blood include:
Tests that may be done to look for the cause of iron deficiency:
Taking supplements and eating iron-rich foods are important parts of treating iron deficiency anemia. However, you and your health care provider must first search for the cause of your anemia.
Iron supplements (most often ferrous sulfate) are needed to build up the iron stores in your body.
Patients who cannot take iron by mouth can take it through a vein (intravenous) or by an injection into the muscle.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women will need to take extra iron because their normal diet usually will not provide the amount they need.
The hematocrit should return to normal after 2 months of iron therapy. However, keep taking iron for another 6 - 12 months to replace the body's iron stores in the bone marrow.
Iron-rich foods include:
Other sources include:
With treatment, the outcome is likely to be good. However, it does depend on the cause. Usually, blood counts will return to normal in 2 months.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Everyone's diet should include enough iron. Red meat, liver, and egg yolks are important sources of iron. Flour, bread, and some cereals are fortified with iron. If you aren't getting enough iron in your diet (uncommon in the United States), take iron supplements.
During periods when you need extra iron (such as pregnancy and breastfeeding), increase the amount of iron in your diet or take iron supplements.
Mabry-Hernandez IR. Screening for iron deficiency anemia--including iron supplementation for children and pregnant women. Am Fam Physician. 2009 May 15;79(10):897-8.
Alleyne M, Horne MK, Miller JL. Individualized treatment for iron-deficiency anemia in adults. Am J Med. 2008;121:943-948.
Brittenham G. Disorders of Iron Metabolism: Iron Deficiency and Iron Overload. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Shattil SS, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 36.