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TIREDNESS: Iron deficiency anemia could be the problem.

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Tired, no energy, pale skin tone? You are not alone. There are many types of anemia but only one, Iron deficiency anemia, is responsible for over 11 million cases in the US each year. It is caused by insufficient dietary intake, insufficient absorption of iron, and other conditions.

The body requires the mineral Iron to make hemoglobin, the part of the red blood cell that transports oxygen to the body's organs. Without adequate iron, the body cannot produce enough hemoglobin to make red blood cells, resulting in iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia can occur with blood loss, an iron-poor diet, or high metabolic demands from excessive menstrual bleeding, pregnancy, and breastfeeding that deplete a woman's iron stores.

Frequent blood donation, endurance training, certain drugs, caffeinated drinks, digestive conditions such as Crohn's disease, or bypass type surgeries can also cause iron deficiency anemia. Women are affected more often than men. The condition is common among pregnant women without iron supplementation because of increased blood volume and the need to supply the growing fetus and placenta.

Iron deficiency tends to develop slowly and often goes unrecognized for some time because patients adapt to the effects that anemia causes.

The most common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia are pallors of the skin or mucous membranes, fatigue, lightheadedness, and weakness. In severe cases, trouble breathing and unusual food cravings may occur.

Our body gets the iron it requires from foods. Examples of iron-rich foods include red meat, green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, eggs, and iron-fortified foods.

Laboratory tests to confirm anemia include complete blood count (CBC) and serum iron studies. CBC will reveal low hemoglobin, low hematocrit, and a low mean cell volume (MCV). Under microscopic examination, the red blood cells appear smaller and paler. Iron studies will typically show a low serum iron level, low serum ferritin (the storage form of iron), elevated serum transferrin (transport form of iron), and a high total iron-binding capacity. Ferritin level is one of the first tests to be abnormally low when you have an iron deficiency. A reticulocyte count may be requested to help determine the cause of anemia or to determine treatment success.

If the cause is dietary iron deficiency, eating more iron foods, or taking iron supplements will usually correct the anemia.

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