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Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by a lack of iron in the blood, which can lead to a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath.

If left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can cause serious health problems and even death.

In this guide, we will explore what iron deficiency anemia is, the causes, symptoms, and treatments available.


What Are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anemia


Although iron deficiency in the blood can cause severe health problems, most people with iron-deficiency anemia have no symptoms, notes the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Even when iron-deficiency anemia is severe, many people do not notice any symptoms.

Iron is an essential mineral that the body uses to create hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen throughout the body. Without enough iron, the body can’t make enough oxygen-carrying hemoglobin, leading to anemia.

However, there are signs and symptoms common to all causes of anemia including iron-deficiency anemia. They appear when red blood cells are at abnormally low levels.

The signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include:


  • Feel fatigue when physically exerting yourself or doing simple daily tasks.


  • Develop weakness or cramps in your hands when writing or exercising.


  • Experience unexplained headaches.


  • Seem irritable and feel anxious for no reason at all.


  • Weakness and unusual tiredness


  • Pale Skin


  • Chest pain


  • Fast Heartbeat


  • Cold hands and feet


  • Shortness of breath


  • Headaches


  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue


  • Brittle nails
  • Dry and damaged hair and skin

If you think you might be experiencing iron deficiency anemia, talk to a doctor about your symptoms as soon as possible.

anemia symptoms - A Guide to Recognizing and Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia


Possible Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia

There are a number of different causes of iron deficiency anemia. One of the most common causes is simply not enough iron in the diet.

This can be due to a lack of iron-rich foods in the diet, or it can be due to poor absorption of iron from the diet.

Other causes of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • Blood loss, such as from menstrual bleeding or gastrointestinal bleeding


  • Chronic medical conditions that cause inflammation or damage to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can lead to poor absorption of iron.

Surprisingly, an iron deficiency is not the only cause of anemia. There are many other nutrient deficiencies that can cause the same set of symptoms.

That’s why it’s important for people with anemia to get tested for iron deficiency.

But it’s also important to know which factors can cause iron deficiency anemia.

Low dietary intake – As you can imagine, a lack of nutrients in your diet can ultimately lead to anemia. This includes vitamin B12, vitamin A, ferritin, and zinc. All of these can cause anemia due to deficiencies.

In addition, a poor diet does not provide the amounts of protein and vitamins needed to produce red blood cells efficiently.

Protein is a component of red blood cells known as hemoglobin.  Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body.

Inadequate intake of iron is also a common cause for anemia.

This is because heme iron from animal sources is difficult for the body to absorb.

Meanwhile, non-heme iron from plant sources is easily absorbed. However, the body absorbs only a small amount of non-heme iron at a time. Over time, the body can eventually absorb heme iron from meat easily.

Certain medical conditions can cause excessive bleeding.

This includes inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis.

Both conditions cause abdominal bleeding that can lead to anemia.

anemia causes - A Guide to Recognizing and Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia


How Can You Treat Iron Deficiency Anemia


Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues. Without enough red blood cells, the body cannot get the oxygen it needs, and this can lead to fatigue, pale skin, and other symptoms.

There are a number of different treatment options for iron deficiency anemia, depending on the severity of the condition. In mild cases, iron supplements may be all that is needed.

More severe cases may require iron injections or a blood transfusion. In very severe cases, a person may need to be hospitalized so that they can receive iron through an IV.

If you think you may have iron deficiency anemia, it is important to see a doctor so that you can get a proper diagnosis and treatment.


How Can an Iron Deficiency Anemia Test Be Performed

There are a few different ways that an iron deficiency anemia test can be performed. A common way is to do a blood test.

This will measure the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. If it is low, it could be a sign of anemia.

Another way to test for anemia is to have a bone marrow biopsy. This is where a small sample of bone marrow is taken and examined.

anemia diagnosis blood test - A Guide to Recognizing and Treating Iron Deficiency Anemia


Food Sources You Can Eat to Treat Iron Deficiency Anemia


If you are looking for food sources that can help you treat iron deficiency anemia, there are a few options to consider.

Foods with the most iron are red meat (liver and kidneys too), poultry (especially turkey), fish (such as cod, haddock and tuna)

Another option is dark, leafy green vegetables, which also contain iron.

You can also get iron from certain types of seafood, like oysters and mussels.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can get iron from tofu, lentils, beans, and nuts.

You can also eat foods that promote iron absorption, such as vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes, cereals and even dark chocolate are excellent sources!

If you’re struggling to get enough iron from your diet, you may need to take iron supplements.

Talk to your doctor about which food sources are best for you.


When to See a Doctor


Having an iron deficiency is only one symptom of a much larger problem and so finding the cause of the problem can be difficult.

However, with good management and a dermatological support, you can continue to live your life and be productive.

Anemia is a serious condition and can have a number of negative effects on your health.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Anemia can be caused by a number of different things, including a lack of iron in your diet.

If you are a woman of childbearing age, you may be at a higher risk for anemia due to blood loss during menstruation.

If you have any other risk factors for anemia, such as a family history of the disease, you should talk to your doctor about getting tested.

If you think you might be low in iron, talk to your doctor about how to get more of this important mineral.

Dr. Schneider is located at the Millpark Hospital, Parktown, Johannesburg.

Services offered include consultation, and endoscopy procedures, including gastroscopy, colonoscopy and video capsule endoscopy.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of abdominal pain in Johannesburg, contact Dr. Schneider or book your consultation today.



The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.