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Iron-Deficiency Anemia

(Reduced Iron in Blood)

Definition

Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is needed to build healthy RBCs. Lower RBC counts mean the body is not getting enough oxygen.

Red Blood Cells

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Iron makes a critical component of red blood cells.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Factors that play a role include:

  • Iron that is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract—may occur due to intestinal diseases or surgery
  • Chronic bleeding , such as heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • Not enough iron in the diet—common cause in infants, children, and pregnant women

Risk Factors    TOP

These factors may increase your chance of developing this condition:

  • Rapid growth cycles—may occur with infancy or adolescence
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding or chronic blood loss from the GI tract
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfed infants who have not started on solid food after 6 months of age
  • Babies who are given cow’s milk prior to age 12 months
  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Diets that contain insufficient iron—rare in the US

Symptoms    TOP

Most people with mild anemia have no symptoms. In those who do have them, anemia may cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Fingernail changes
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Decreased work capacity
  • Heart palpitations
  • Infection
  • Craving to eat things that are not food (called pica) such as ice or clay
  • Hair loss
  • Shortness of breath during or after physical activity

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool tests

Treatment    TOP

Treatments may include:

Iron Supplements

Iron can be taken as a supplement or as part of a multivitamin. Iron comes in many "salt" forms. Ferrous salts are better absorbed than ferric salts. Ferrous sulfate is the cheapest and most commonly used iron salt. Slow-release or coated products may cause less stomach problems. However, they may not be absorbed as well. Some products contain vitamin C to improve absorption. Talk to your doctor because your iron level could get too high.

Iron-Fortified Cereal

Your doctor may recommend that you feed your baby iron-fortified cereal.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of having anemia:

  • Eat a diet rich in iron, such as oysters, meat, poultry, or fish.
  • Avoid foods that interfere with iron absorption, such as black tea.

Ask your doctor if your infant is getting enough iron. General guidelines include:

  • Starting at 4 months, breastfed infants need an iron supplement until they get enough iron from other sources, like infant cereal or iron-fortified formula.
  • Bottle-fed infants should get a formula that is fortified with iron.
  • Many premature infants need extra iron starting at 1 month of age.

RESOURCES:

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
https://healthychildren.org
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
https://www.acog.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca

References:

Iron. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 15, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Iron deficiency anemia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated July 12, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Iron deficiency in children (infancy through adolescence). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 21, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2017.
US Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Report of the United States Preventive Services Task Force. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2002.
US Preventive Services Task Force. The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Report of the United States Preventive Services Task Force. AHRQ Publication No. 06-0588; Rockville, MD: 2006.
10/12/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Baker R, Greer F, Committee on Nutrition American Academy of Pediatrics. Diagnosis and prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children (0-3 years of age). Pediatrics. 2010;126(5):1040-1050.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013

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