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Iron Deficiency

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Definition

Iron deficiency anemia is reduction either in the number of red cells or the iron content of red blood cells. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, which is the pigment that can transport oxygen to different tissues of the body and at the same time imparts red color to blood.

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Causes

  • Lack of iron in the diet
  • Malabsorption or poor absorption of iron by the body such as crohn's disease, celiac sprue
  • Pregnancy - increased demand due to developing fetus
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Lead poisoning
  • Medications like Prilosec, Aciphex, which are used to suppress the acid production by the stomach. Stomach acid is needed to convert dietary iron into a form that can readily be absorbed by the small intestine.
  • Gastrointestinal blood loss associated ulcers, bleeding esophageal varices, cancer of esophagus, stomach or colon, long term aspirin use
  • Bone marrow suppression due to cancer chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Bone marrow suppression due to long term exposure to X-rays.

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Symptoms

  • Skin paleness
  • Excessive tiredness and weakness
  • Irritability
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cracks or sores (angular stomatitis) in the sides of your mouth
  • Sore tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual food cravings such as ice, dirt, paint etc.
  • Poor appetite
  • Headache
  • Susceptibility to cold, flu and other viral infections.
  • Uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in your legs that is usually relieved by moving or massaging them.
  • Tingling or numbness of fingers and toes

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Implications

Untreated and longstanding iron deficiency anemia can lead to rapid and irregular heartbeat and palpitations. The heart muscle may become weak and damaged due to chronic lack of oxygen. Angina or chest pains may occur due to narrowing of the coronary arteries. The heart has to pump harder to meet the body's demand for oxygen and can eventually result in congestive cardiac failure and enlargement of the left side of the heart. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can be linked with low birth weight of the baby or premature birth. The cause of iron deficiency in elderly should be investigated and identified due to risk of colon and stomach cancer.

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What You Can Do

  • Iron Supplements
    • Acute iron deficiency or low level of iron in the blood that can be life threatening require iron injections or iron infusion.
    • Oral iron supplements that are available as ferrous sulfate are recommended. Iron is best absorbed on empty stomach with foods that DO NOT contain milk or milk products. Mild and antacids interfere with the absorption of iron. However, vitamin C facilitates it's absorption and is also essential in the production of hemoglobin. Iron can irritate your stomach so enteric coated iron preparations are easy on the stomach
    • Folic acid supplements taken on a daily basis can stimulate the bone marrow to produce healthy red blood cells
  • Dietary Iron
    • Eat foods that are rich in iron like red meat, liver and other organ meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, whole-grain or iron-fortified cereals, breads, pastas, beans, peas, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard, raisins and nuts.

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Iron Deficiency