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.
Care for iron deficiency anemia at Rush
Your doctor at Rush will help you evaluate and change your diet to make sure that you are getting enough iron and that your body is absorbing iron the way it should. Treatment for iron deficiency anemia will include some of the following options, either in combination or alone:
Diet and dietary supplements
Most iron deficiency anemia can be treated with iron supplements and dietary changes:
- More meat or seafood to help increase iron levels.
- Other food sources of iron, including tofu, beans, prune juice, dried fruits, dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, and iron-fortified breads and cereals.
- More vitamin C to help your body absorb more iron.
Treatment to stop bleeding
If excessive bleeding is the cause of your iron deficiency anemia, your care may include one of these options:
- Medications that help heal ulcers
- Surgery to remove polyps or growths in your intestines
- Medications or surgery to reduce heavy menstrual flow
Receiving a transfusion of red blood cells via IV can increase iron in the blood and improve your anemia right away, though it is only a short-term solution.
In severe cases of iron deficiency anemia, you may need iron given to you via IV.
Why choose Rush for care of iron deficiency anemia
- Expert care: At Rush, doctors who treat children and adults with blood disorders and are also involved in clinical and laboratory research. This extensive experience gives them a deep understanding of diseases of the blood.
- Clinical trials: At Rush, you’ll have access to the latest treatments for iron deficiency anemia being tested in clinical trials.