Iron-deficiency anemia may seem like a strangely specific problem to be concerned about. But as it turns out, being low in iron is a much more serious health issue than you might think. Experts say iron deficiency is one of the most common forms of nutritional deficiency in the world. It’s also the most common type of anemia, which is a condition that happens when your body doesn’t make enough healthy red blood cells, according to The Women’s Office of Health.
So, why is iron important? Well, everyone needs iron in order to create blood cells in the first place. Otherwise, you won’t get enough oxygen to all your body tissues. According to the National Institutes of Health, women aged 19 to 50 are encouraged to consume 18 mg of iron per day. That number changes to 8 mg for women once they hit age 51. Most women are able to easily reach an appropriate amount of iron each day by eating iron-rich foods such as poultry, fish, and legumes.
However, some people following a vegetarian diet have trouble getting enough iron, especially if they don’t eat a lot of healthy legumes and beans. Other folks may struggle to absorb enough iron due to certain conditions such as Crohn’s disease or celiac disease. Pregnant women may also find it tough to get enough iron, as their daily requirement actually jumps from 18 mg to 27 mg for those nine months. While some people only experience mild iron-deficiency anemia, others can have more severe forms. And if you’re seriously low in iron, you can put yourself at risk for severe issues down the line such as heart problems. Luckily, there are ways to spot iron-deficiency anemia before it gets too out of hand, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Common Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty concentrating
- Restless legs syndrome
- Coldness in hands and feet
- Pica (unusual craving for non-food items)
It’s worth keeping in mind that not everyone with iron-deficiency anemia experiences symptoms, especially if it’s a mild form. If you suspect that you have this condition, you’ll have to get confirmation from your doctor. He or she can check your iron levels through a blood test, a biopsy, or other exam if the results aren’t clear right away, according to Medline Plus. Treatment for iron-deficiency anemia might involve dietary changes, supplements, or certain medications. More serious cases may require blood transfusions, injections, or IV therapy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. However, most healthy adults are able to save themselves a whole lot of this trouble by stopping a deficiency from ever happening in the first place.
How to Prevent Iron-Deficiency Anemia
- Eat iron-rich foods. Some popular foods with iron include chicken, turkey, fish, liver, soybeans, dried lentils, peas, baked beans, chickpeas, and whole-grain bread.
- Consume other foods that help you absorb iron. A little known benefit of vitamin C: It actually helps your body absorb iron. Some foods rich in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes.
- Consider taking an iron supplement. If you’re at risk of iron-deficiency anemia, talk to your doctor about whether a supplement might be the right choice for you. In some cases, it can be a small way to prevent a big problem in the long run.
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