Iron Deficiency Anemia: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Anemia occurs when you have a level of red blood cells (RBCs) in your blood that is lower than normal. Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia, and it occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. Your body needs iron to make a protein called hemoglobin. This protein is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body’s tissues, which is essential for your tissues and muscles to function effectively. When there isn’t enough iron in your blood stream, the rest of your body can’t get the amount of oxygen it needs.

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While the condition may be common, a lot of people don’t know they have iron deficiency anemia. It’s possible to experience the symptoms for years without ever knowing the cause.

In women of childbearing age, the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia is a loss of iron in the blood due to heavy menstruation or pregnancy. A poor diet or certain intestinal diseases that affect how the body absorbs iron can also cause iron deficiency anemia. Doctors normally treat the condition with iron supplements or changes to diet.

What Causes Iron Deficiency Anemia?

According to the American Society of Hematology, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. There are many reasons why a person might become deficient in iron. These include:

Inadequate Iron Intake

Eating too little iron over an extended amount of time can cause a shortage in your body. Foods such as meat, eggs, and some green leafy vegetables are high in iron. Because iron is essential during times of rapid growth and development, pregnant women and young children may need even more iron-rich foods in their diet.

Pregnancy or Blood Loss Due to Menstruation

In women of childbearing age, the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia are heavy menstrual bleeding and blood loss during childbirth.

Internal Bleeding

Certain medical conditions can cause internal bleeding, which can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Examples include an ulcer in your stomach, polyps (tissue growths) in the colon or intestines, or colon cancer. Regular use of pain relievers, such as aspirin, can also cause bleeding in the stomach.

Inability to Absorb Iron

Certain disorders or surgeries that affect the intestines can also interfere with how your body absorbs iron. Even if you get enough iron in your diet, celiac disease or intestinal surgery, such as gastric bypass, may limit the amount of iron your body can absorb.

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