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Iron deficiency
is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. It is especially prevalent in pregnant women, infants, and young children.

Symptoms can include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to consult with your doctor to determine if you have an iron deficiency and, if so, to receive appropriate treatment.

Iron deficiency is a common problem, but it can be easily treated.

In this article we discover more about iron deficiency and how to prevent it.


What is Iron?


Iron is a mineral that the body needs to make red blood cells.

Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Without enough iron, the body can’t make enough red blood cells, which can lead to anemia.

Iron deficiency can cause a number of problems, such as fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and a poor appetite.



What is Iron Deficiency?


Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, is a common medical condition that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells.

Iron is a mineral that helps your body make red blood cells.

If you have iron deficiency, you may feel tired and weak. You may also have shortness of breath, a fast heart rate, or cold hands and feet.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. It is especially common in women and children.

Children who are iron deficient may have problems learning and paying attention in school. 

There are several ways to treat iron deficiency, including taking iron supplements, eating iron-rich foods, and getting more iron from your diet.

If you think you may have iron deficiency, talk to your doctor to get the appropriate treatment for it.

Children who are iron deficient may have problems learning and paying attention in school. 


What are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency?


According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that there are 2 billion people who have anemia due to iron deficiency.

The most common symptoms of iron deficiency are:

  • Extreme fatigue, weakness, and a lack of energy
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Inflammation or sore tongue
  • Brittle Nails
  • Fast heart rate
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia


What Causes Iron Deficiency?


Iron deficiency can be caused by a number of factors, including:

– Not getting enough iron in your diet
– Not absorbing enough iron from your food
– Loss of blood, either through heavy periods or bleeding ulcers
– Increased need for iron, such as during pregnancy or growth spurts in children
– Taking certain medications, such as aspirin or other blood thinners

If you think you might have an iron deficiency, it is important to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.


iron deficiency causes - How to Tell If You Have an Iron Deficiency and What to Do About It


 How is Iron Deficiency Diagnosed?

If you think you may be deficient in iron, your doctor can perform a blood test to check your levels. The test will measure the amount of hemoglobin in your blood.

Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.

The test will also check for anemia, which is a condition caused by low levels of red blood cells. If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency, your doctor may prescribe iron supplements.

You will also need to make changes to your diet to ensure you are getting enough iron.


What is the treatment for iron deficiency?

If you are diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, your doctor may prescribe iron supplements.

These supplements can help increase your iron levels and help your symptoms subside. Your doctor may also recommend that you make changes to your diet.

There are two types of iron in food: heme and non-heme.

Heme iron is found in meat, poultry, and fish. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods and supplements.

Fortunately, there are many foods that are high in iron, making it easy to include this nutrient in our diets.

Some excellent sources of iron include:

  • Red meat
  • Liver & kidneys
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Peas
  • Seafood such as tuna, salmon, and trout
  • Cereal
  • Bread

It’s also a good idea to pair vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods, as vitamin C helps our bodies better absorb the mineral.

Vitamin C-rich foods:

  • Orange juice
  • Broccoli
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Melons
  • Peppers
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Tomatoes 

Foods that are low in iron include:

  • All grains
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

iron rich foods - How to Tell If You Have an Iron Deficiency and What to Do About It


Lifestyle Changes for Iron Deficiency:


You can prevent an iron deficiency by making a few lifestyle changes:

1.  Eat iron-rich foods.
Iron is found in foods like red meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, and fortified cereals.

2. Drink plenty of fluids.
Dehydration can lead to an iron deficiency. Drink plenty of water and other fluids like milk and juice.

3. Avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals.
Tea and coffee can inhibit the absorption of iron from food. Drink them between meals instead.

4.  Exercise
One of the best lifestyles changes you can make to address iron deficiency is to exercise. Exercise is important for many reasons, including getting enough iron.

When you exercise, your body produces more red blood cells. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body.

The more red blood cells you have, the more oxygen your body can deliver, which is important for preventing and treating iron deficiency.

Not only does exercise help produce more red blood cells, but it also helps your body absorb iron from food. When you exercise, your body uses more energy.

5.  Supplements
First, it is important to talk to your doctor about taking an iron supplement. This can help to improve your overall iron levels and help to reduce your symptoms.

iron deficiency exercise - How to Tell If You Have an Iron Deficiency and What to Do About It


Risk Factors


The following group of people may have a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia:

Individuals who do not eat meat may have an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia.  These individuals should get their iron intake from other iron-rich foods.

Children or Infants:
Babies born with a lower birth weight and not getting sufficient iron from breastmilk or formula, might be at risk for iron deficiency. 

Especially during growth spurts, children need extra iron.  Children who do not eat a healthy diet may be at risk of anemia.

Women in general are a greater risk for iron deficiency anemia because of menstruation and losing blood during that time.

Blood Donors:
People who donate blood on a regular basis may have an increased risk of iron deficiency.

iron deficiency infographic - How to Tell If You Have an Iron Deficiency and What to Do About It




With so many people experiencing iron deficiency, it is important that we learn what foods are high in iron and how to prepare them in a way that makes absorption easier.

Additionally, those with anemia should supplement their diet with an iron supplement to ensure they are getting the recommended daily amount of iron.

By following these simple tips, you can help reduce the risk of iron deficiency and its related health concerns.

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.

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