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.
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Causes

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

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
  • Alcoholism
  • Diets that contain insufficient iron—rare in the United States

Symptoms

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

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