Iron deficiency is not something we often think of when suffering with headaches, fatigue and aches and pains. This condition is on the rise and can affect a lot of people without them even knowing it. The most common complaint associated with iron deficiency is anaemia. This occurs when you have a decreased level of haemoglobin in your red blood cells (RBCs). It is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body’s tissues, which is petty important! Iron is what your body uses to make haemoglobin.
The condition is relatively common, and many people do not know they have iron deficiency anaemia. It could be the cause of problems without being picked up for years. It is a lot more common in women. Heavy menstruation or certain intestinal diseases that affect how the body absorbs iron can be the cause.
At Perth Allied Health Clinic, we generally look at our patients in a holistic way. Even though most people come to us initially because they are suffering from an ache or a pain or injury, understanding that the body works holistically can give us a far better understanding of where to focus treatment. Diet and nutrition, general exercise habits and our psychology play a massive role in how the body functions.
Symptoms to look out for
The symptoms of iron deficiency may be mild at first and can even be difficult to notice. Most people do not realise they have it until a routine blood test picks up a decrease in blood iron. Common symptoms include:
- general fatigue
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
- strange cravings to eat items that are not food, such as dirt, ice, or clay
- a tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
- tongue swelling or soreness
- cold hands and feet
- fast or irregular heartbeat
- brittle nails
- headaches and general aches and pains.
Eating too little iron over an extended amount of time can cause a shortage in your body. Foods such as meat, eggs, and some green leafy vegetables are high in iron. If you follow a specific diet such as vegan or vegetarian diets, you may need to be more vigilant in increasing your iron intake.
Heavy menstrual bleeding and blood loss during childbirth are the most common causes of iron deficiency anaemia in women of childbearing age. Endometriosis may also cause reduced iron levels.
Some medical conditions may be the cause. Stomach ulcers, intestinal polyps or colon cancer may be the cause. Taking consistent anti-inflammatories or blood thinners may be the cause.
Certain disorders that affect the intestines can affect how much iron you absorb even if your dietary intake is good. celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut syndrome or colitis may be the cause. These disorders may not be accepted by your medical health professional.
How it is diagnosed
A doctor may order blood tests to check if your levels are right. This will look at a range of levels of things in the blood including iron, red blood cell and platelet counts, the size and colour of your red blood cells, ferritin levels and total iron-binding capacity.
If your doctor is concerned that internal bleeding is causing your anaemia, additional tests may be needed. Faecal tests to look for blood loss may be ordered. Endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures may be ordered.
Iron tablets can help restore iron levels in your body. Taking on an empty stomach improves absorption. Improving dietary sources of iron include adding more red meat, dark green, leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. Vitamin C can help your body absorb iron so it might be worth taking together at the recommendation of your health professional.
It is important to remember that if your iron deficiency is caused by something more serious, or your body’s ability to absorb iron then just increasing your dietary iron intake may not have much of an effect.
Diagnosing and treating iron deficiency by yourself can result in adverse health effects. Sometimes people do a bit of Dr Google, assume they have it and start heavy supplementation themselves. This can result in having too much iron in your blood. The complications can include liver damage and constipation. If you have symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, talk to your health professional instead and get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to get yourself back on track.