What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?
Iron-deficiency anemia is a common and easily
treated condition that occurs when there is not enough iron in the body. It is
the most common type of anemia. A
lack of iron in the body can come from bleeding, not eating enough foods that
contain iron, or not absorbing enough iron from food that is eaten.
The term "anemia" (uh-NEE-me-uh) is used for a group
of conditions in which the number of red blood cells in the blood is lower than
normal, or the red blood cells dont have enough hemoglobin
(HEE-muh-glow-bin). Hemoglobinan iron-rich protein that gives the red
color to bloodcarries the oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
In people with anemia, the blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of
the body. Red blood cells also remove carbon dioxide, a waste product, from
cells and carry it to the lungs to be exhaled.
Red blood cells also are called RBCs or erythrocytes
(eh-RITH-roh-sites). Normal red blood cells are all about the same size and
look like doughnuts without a hole in the center. They are produced by the
spongy marrow inside the large bones of the body. Healthy red blood cells have
an average lifespan of 120 days. When they die, the iron from the hemoglobin is
recycled to make new red blood cells.
There are many types of anemia. The three major
causes of anemia are blood loss, decreased production of red blood cells, or
increased destruction of red blood cells. White blood cells and platelets are
the two other kinds of blood cells. White blood cells help fight infection.
Platelets help blood to clot. In some kinds of anemia, there are low amounts of
all three types of blood cells. The most common symptom of all types of anemia
is feeling tired because the body is not receiving enough oxygen.
In iron-deficiency anemia, the body does not have
enough iron to form hemoglobin, which means there is not enough hemoglobin to
carry oxygen to the whole body. The body gets its iron from food. The main
foods that contain iron are meat and shellfish as well as iron-fortified foods
(that is, foods that have iron added). A steady supply of iron is needed to
form hemoglobin and healthy red blood cells.
A person can have low iron levels for three
- Blood loss, either from disease or injury
- Not getting enough iron in the diet
- Not being able to absorb the iron in the
Iron-deficiency anemia also can develop when the
body needs higher levels of iron, such as during pregnancy.
Effects of Iron-Deficiency Anemia on the Body
Iron-deficiency anemia can range from mild to
severe. A mild case usually causes no symptoms or problems. However, a severe
case can cause extreme fatigue (tiredness) and weakness. Severe iron-deficiency
anemia can lead to serious problems for young children and pregnant women, and
it can affect the heart.
In young children, iron-deficiency anemia can cause
murmur and delays in growth and development. It puts a child at greater
risk for lead poisoning and infections, and it can cause behavior problems.
In pregnant women, iron-deficiency anemia can
increase the risk of a premature delivery and a low-birth-weight baby.
The heart is affected when there is a lack of oxygen
in the body. The heart has to work harder to get enough oxygen throughout the
body. Over time, this stress on the heart can lead to a fast or irregular
heartbeat, chest pain, an enlarged heart, and even
Important General Information
A lack of iron in the body is the most common
nutritional problem. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia.
It is most often found in young children, pregnant women, and women of
childbearing age. In fact, it affects half of all pregnant women and 1 out of 5
women of childbearing age.
Iron-deficiency anemia can be treated successfully.
The causes of iron-deficiency anemia can most often be treated successfully as
well. However, if not treated, it can lead to severe symptoms and serious