If you find yourself tired and struggling to get through the day because of a lack of energy you may have iron deficiency anemia. Iron is a mineral vital to the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry and transport oxygen. And, we all know the importance of oxygen. Without it life is not sustainable. If you have any of the symptoms below which suggest iron deficiency you should be evaluated by your doctor as you may need an iron supplement.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
- Fatigue or weakness
- Pale skin
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- Fast heart rate
- Cold extremities
- Shortness of breath
- Brittle nails
- Inflammation or pain of the tongue.
There are four main causes of iron deficiency.
- Blood loss: uterine and GI bleeding are the most common reasons.
- Inadequate intake of iron due to diet. Meat, eggs, and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of iron. Vegetarians are at risk of iron deficiency and may require an iron supplement.
- Poor absorption of iron. Diseases of the small intestine like celiac can cause iron deficiency as can gastric bypass surgery.
- Increased iron needs. The classic example is pregnancy. Some iron is lost in the sweat so excessive exercise can create an increased demand for iron.
Groups at Risk for Iron Deficiency
Certain population groups are at higher risk for developing iron deficiency anemia. This includes women who are pregnant or who have heavy menstrual bleeding, anyone with chronic kidney disease, and patients undergoing chemotherapy. An iron supplement can help these individuals.
Diagnosing Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency can be diagnosed through blood work that evaluates the red blood cell count, hemoglobin levels and hematocrit. In addition, iron studies are usually obtained that measure levels of various forms of iron.
Iron needs vary by age and gender. Women require 18 mg/day of iron during childbearing years and 8 mg/day when menopausal. Men require 8 mg/day of iron.
To get enough iron to be absorbed it is usually necessary to take 50 mg to 100 mg of elemental iron one to three times a day depending on the magnitude of the iron deficiency. Correcting an iron deficiency can take up to six months.
Iron Supplement Side Effects
Iron can cause some side effects and should be taken with a full glass of water. Side effects include nausea and constipation. Stool color will change to black. Iron supplements can interact with other medications and supplements including antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, antacids, and calcium supplements.
If you suspect you may be low in iron first be evaluated by a physician before taking an iron supplement to be sure that you are in fact iron deficient. Too much iron can have toxic effects on the body so you do not want to take an iron supplement unless you really are iron deficient.