Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, a condition that occurs when you have too few healthy red blood cells.
People with iron deficiency anemia don’t have enough iron in their bodies to make hemoglobin, a protein found in healthy red blood cells that carries needed oxygen throughout the body.
Iron deficiency anemia is highly treatable, and treating it is important: If left untreated, it can lead to organ and tissue damage.
Iron deficiency anemia causes
- A diet low in iron
- Rapid physical growth, such as during infancy, early childhood and adolescence
- Heavy menstrual cycles
- Internal bleeding, such as from an ulcer or a polyp in the intestines
Iron deficiency anemia symptoms
Call your primary care doctor to schedule an appointment if you have any of the following symptoms and they don’t go away:
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
- Pale skin
- Cold hands and feet
- Irregular heartbeat
- Brittle nails
- Sore tongue
- Enlarged spleen
- Restless leg syndrome
- Desire to eat nonfood items such as ice, dirt or paint (called pica)
How can I get help for iron deficiency anemia?
Your primary care doctor will examine you and order tests to check the levels of iron in your blood. Your doctor will also determine whether you are bleeding internally.
If your iron deficiency anemia is severe, your doctor may refer you to a hematologist (a doctor who specializes in blood disorders) for more specialized tests and treatments.