FAQ’s on Iron Deficiency

What are some of the very important points that one should know about Iron Deficiency? But, always remember, Iron deficiency is a condition that can be easily corrected with simple changes in your diet and by following the instructions given by your doctor.

1. Why is iron important?

Iron is an essential nutrient required by all the cells of your body. It helps the cells use oxygen to function effectively. Iron is mainly found in your red blood cells. It is a vital part of hemoglobin that carries blood from the lungs to all the parts of your body, as well as myoglobin which transports oxygen to your muscles.

Iron helps red blood cell production, heart, and skeletal muscles function properly, fights infections, keeps up energy levels, and ensures normal brain function.

2. Does my body produce iron?

No, the human body does not produce iron. Your body, however, loses small amounts of every day as you shed skin and other cells. It also loses iron whenever you bleed. Therefore, the iron required by your body should be completely supplied by the food you eat.

3. What is iron deficiency?

If your daily diet does not include adequate supplies of iron, the iron reserves in your body gradually run down. As the iron stores in your body get depleted you become iron deficient. If left untreated iron deficiency can gradually lead to iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron deficiency is a major nutritional disorder in both developed and underdeveloped countries. It affects women more than men due to the additional iron requirements during periods and pregnancy. Growing children are also at high risk of being iron deficient. This is because of the increased need for iron during growth and development.

4. What is the difference between iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency is a cause of iron deficiency anemia. In the early stages of iron deficiency anemia is not seen.

5. What happens if I have an iron deficiency?

Iron is essential for all your bodily functions. A decrease in the iron stores in your body can lead to several adverse effects. These include:

  1. Impaired learning and concentration

  2. Decreased memory

  3. Weakened immune system

  4. Poor sports performance

  5. Fatigue

  6. Risk of having a preterm delivery and a low birth weight baby

6. What causes iron deficiency?

You become iron deficient when your body’s iron requirements are not fulfilled by the iron absorption from your diet. Major causes of iron deficiency include:

  1. Blood loss (premenopausal women are at greater risk due to blood loss during periods)

  2. Inflammation (related to conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Heart Failure, Chronic Kidney Disease)

  3. Medications (medicines used in the treatment of CHF or CKD can lead to complications which may cause iron deficiency)

  4. Growth (Iron is essential to growth and is required in greater proportions in pregnant women and infants)

  5. Diet (Restrictive diets like vegetarian or vegan diets put you at higher risk of iron deficiency)

7. Is iron lost during bleeding?

Yes, iron is lost during bleeding. Common causes of excessive blood loss include:

  1. Heavy menstrual bleeding

  2. A regular donation of blood

  3. Excess blood loss after an operation

  4. Gastrointestinal conditions

8. What are the reasons for the low dietary intake of iron?

Since iron is primarily supplied by the food you eat, it is essential that you include a lot of iron-rich foods in your diet. Low dietary intake of iron is due to your food preferences (some do not like to consume red meat), economic conditions (being unable to afford the right diet), or dietary restrictions (choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet).

9. Is it possible to have an iron-rich diet and still be iron-deficient?

Yes, this can be possible. Untreated coeliac disease affects the absorption of iron in your body. This is an intestinal disorder and it is important to get tested for it if you have iron deficiency. You may also have problems with iron absorption if you have previously undergone gastric surgery.

10. What are the risk factors for iron deficiency?

Individuals at risk for iron deficiency include:

  1. Babies who have not been breastfed or given iron-fortified formula

  2. Children

  3. Teenagers

  4. Menstruating women

  5. Pregnant and breastfeeding women

  6. Individuals with poor diets

  7. Vegans and vegetarians

  8. Individuals who crash diet

11. What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?

Commonly seen symptoms in people with iron deficiency include:

  1. Fatigue or physical exhaustion

  2. Shortness of breath

  3. Brittle nails

  4. Paleness

  5. Headaches and dizziness

  6. Getting bruised easily

  7. Confusion or memory loss

  8. Soreness in the tongue and mouth

12. How is iron deficiency diagnosed?

Iron deficiency can be diagnosed with the help of simple blood tests. Your doctor will also inquire about your diet, overall health, and if you are taking any medicines. Additional tests may be conducted to find out the reason behind your iron deficiency.

13. What are the treatment options for iron deficiency?

Treating iron deficiency is quite simple and mainly includes adding iron-rich foods to your daily diet. Sometimes your doctor may also prescribe oral iron supplements. If you have a severe iron deficiency you may be asked to take intravenous iron in the hospital.

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