Iron deficiency is a lack of sufficient iron in the blood. People require iron to help transport oxygen throughout the body. When there is a lack of iron in the blood, resulting either from nutritional deficiencies or a loss of blood, symptoms can appear, caused by a reduced amount of oxygen reaching the tissues and organs of the body. If left untreated, it can lead to severe complications such as heart and growth problems.
In the human body, iron is used by the red blood cells to help the cells create hemoglobin. The word hemoglobin literally means iron protein from the prefix hemo- meaning iron and -globin, a protein. This protein is what makes red blood cells red, and insufficient amounts of hemoglobin are likely due to iron deficiency anemia.
Those deficient in iron typically display mild symptoms such as fatigue, pallor, shortness of breath, dizziness, brittle nails, and loss of appetite. In these mild cases, iron deficiency is easily treated with a supplement. A consultation is always best to determine if the true cause of these symptoms is iron deficiency, since there are many other ailments and vitamin and mineral deficiencies which can produce similar symptoms. The only real way to determine if the anemia is from a lack of iron is through a blood test. After examining the results of that blood test, a doctor can prescribe the proper type of iron supplement to be taken. Women are more likely to be deficient in iron since they lose blood on a monthly basis through menstruation. Iron is stored in the body, and one who is not deficient in it should not take supplements. An excess of iron can cause symptoms similar to anemia. This is why only a physician should prescribe iron supplements.
There are many causes of iron deficiency anemia, some resulting from lifestyle, and others as side effects of medications or illnesses. A common cause of anemia is an insufficient intake of iron in the diet or a reduced efficiency in the body absorbing and using that iron. A well rounded, nutritionally sound diet is critical to preventing iron deficiency anemia. If there is not enough iron in the body, the bone marrow will not have the materials it needs to manufacture hemoglobin.
Iron supplements are most effective if the anemia is only due to a lack of iron in the diet. Treatment is different if there is an inability of the body to absorb and use the iron, as can be the case with some forms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac or Crohn's disease, or those taking stomach acid reducers. Using iron supplements, which are absorbed in the small intestine, or treating intestinal diseases can allow the body to more effectively use the iron from the diet.
A loss of blood can lead to anemia, and if there no visible external bleeding and the patient is not a menstruating woman, then a physician would look to see if there is evidence of internal bleeding. This will be determined only after ensuring that the patient has proper nutrition to support the manufacture of hemoglobin. Treating the underlying cause will be the ultimate cure to the iron deficiency but in the interim, supplements might be given, however these will take at least two weeks before relief from the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are relieved. Should the anemia be severe, a blood transfusion might be ordered to provide immediate relief.
The net result of an iron deficiency in an individual is less oxygen going to muscles and organs. The circulatory system of the body uses the power of the heart to pump blood through the lungs in order to allow the hemoglobin in the red blood cells to pick up oxygen molecules in the lungs. Arteries in the body take the oxygenated blood to the tissues while the veins deliver oxygen poor blood back to the lungs. Hemoglobin is made in the bone marrow from old red blood cells and iron from the diet. A lack of iron can lead to a reduction in the amount of hemoglobin made. This sets off a chain reaction. A reduced amount of hemoglobin means that the blood cannot pick up as much oxygen from the lungs. The tissues then cannot get as much oxygen as they had before, and their functions are reduced in efficiency. Relieving this cycle takes time, and anyone beginning a course of iron supplements should allow for at least two weeks to rebuild the iron stores in the body.
Anyone who suspects iron deficiency anemia should discuss the matter with a physician who can make the right diagnosis and prescribe the proper treatment.