Anemia is known as a condition when you have low levels of iron in your blood.
It is a common disorder that occurs when you have a deficiency in red blood cells, resulting in less oxygen delivered throughout your body.
The most common cause of anemia is low iron levels, or popularly known as iron-deficiency anemia https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/202333-workup.
What are the symptoms that signal you should up your iron intake?
We will discuss that, as well as causes of anemia, and how to get more iron.
Without iron, your red blood cells become low in hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
The normal red blood cell count in women is 12g per deciliter of blood, and 15g per deciliter of blood in men.
If you have below normal levels, your body will start manifesting symptoms of anemia, and your doctor will perform blood test to determine the root of the problem.
Table of Contents
Causes of anemia
There are three main causes of anemia http://www.namrata.co/case-study-iron-deficiency-anemia/.
Those include blood loss, reduction in the body’s ability to produce new red blood cells, and an illness that leads to increased destruction of red blood cells.
No matter the cause, the symptoms are always the same.
Blood loss happens when the amount of blood loss is greater than your body’s ability to replace the lost red blood cells.
Women who experience heavy menstrual periods and people with internal bleeding due to ulcers are at greater risk of anemia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763695/.
There are a number of risk factors that can alter your body’s ability to produce red blood cells.
- Diet lacking in foods containing vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron
- Chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, and HIV can interfere with your body’s ability to produce healthy red blood cells https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4855820/
- Women during pregnancy have a higher risk of developing anemia
- Genetic disorders including aplastic anemia, a condition preventing children to produce enough red blood cells
- Intestinal disorders that affect the absorption of nutrients like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease
Anemia Signs and Symptoms
Usually the first of the symptoms you notice is fatigue https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3105608/.
That is because your heart works extra hours, and yet your organs do not get enough oxygen to function properly.
Yes, it is completely normal to feel tired after a long day at work or after a heavy exercise session.
However, when you are anemic, you feel tired after shorter and shorter periods of exertion.
Your body’s cells are simply starving for oxygen.
With that in mind, here are other symptoms of anemia to watch for:
- Shortness of breath
- General feeling of weakness
- Irritability and easy to get annoyed
- Inability to concentrate and think clearly
- Racing or irregular heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
In the beginning, these symptoms will be very light https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/anemia.
But as your anemia goes from mild and moderate to severe, your body will experience more severe symptoms.
In most cases, your body starts manifesting visible physical changes as well.
Those include pale skin, brittle nails, and cuts that take longer to stop bleeding.
In the beginning, your body will be able to adapt and compensate for the loss of oxygen in the blood.
But as anemia advances, your body will be less and less adaptable.
If you notice any of the symptoms of anemia, you should check with your physician.
A diagnosis of anemia includes a blood test measuring complete blood count, medical and family history, and a physical exam telling whether you are breathing properly and whether you have a proper heartbeat.
Is Anemia Deadly?
There is a type of anemia that was once considered deadly.
The condition called pernicious anemia is an anemia with vitamin B-12 deficiency https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3441227/.
The main cause is your body’s inability to absorb vitamin B-12.
The condition is quite rare, with only 0.1% of the general population having it, and just 1.9% of people over 60 years old.
Due to lack of available treatment, the condition was once considered deadly.
In addition to the regular symptoms of anemia, people with pernicious anemia also experienced symptoms like:
- Unsteady gait
- Memory loss
- Progressive lesion of the spinal cord
- Spasticity, or stiffness in the muscles
What happens if you ignore anemic symptoms?
We mentioned before that once you notice symptoms, the first thing you need to do is consult with a physician and start making changes.
It is imperative that you consume more iron-rich foods to get your iron levels at minimum and optimum levels.
If left untreated, anemia can cause serious health problems.
Without iron, our blood vessels cannot carry oxygen to the organs, and that can leave them damaged.
The heart must work harder to make up for the lack of red blood cells and hemoglobin.
If left untreated, iron anemia can cause severe fatigue to the point you are tired and cannot complete everyday tasks.
But to more serious problems, ignoring symptoms can cause heart problems like a rapid and irregular heartbeat.
Because your heart must pump more blood, the result is enlarged heart or heart failure.
Pregnant women are even at higher risk, as folate deficiency anemia can result in pregnancy complications and birth defects.
How much iron do you actually need?
Women generally need more iron than men https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355040.
And the irony is that women get less iron, because they consume less iron-rich foods like lean meat https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915460/.
During teenage years, you need 15mg of iron per day.
Women need a tad more, because they are starting their period cycles.
Once the teenage years are over, women between 19 and 50 years old need 18mg of iron per day.
Men of the same age need just 8mg of iron.
After menopause, women need less iron because their menstrual cycle ends.
Women and men need the same amount now, which is 8mg of iron per day.
During pregnancy, women need more iron, up to 27mg per day, and that falls down to 9mg during breastfeeding period.
Vegetarians need to get more iron from foods than people that eat meat.
That is because the body absorbs iron better from meat than from plant-based foods.
Therefore, vegetarians need 32mg of iron between 19 and 50 years old, and 14mg of iron per day once they are over the 50 years old limit.
Best food sources of iron
There are many iron-rich foods you can consume.
Some foods contain less iron, some contain more.
As mentioned, the body can absorb iron from meat sources better than from plant sources.
With that in mind, here are some great sources of iron:
- Lean meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork)
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Beef liver
- Kidney beans
- Dark chocolate
- Baked potato
- Wholegrains llike brown rice
- Dried fruits, including dried prunes, dried raisins, and dried apricots
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish including salmon
Can you get more iron than your body needs?
In the same way there are symptoms, there are also signs of too much iron http://www.irondisorders.org/iron-overload.
And yes, you can get too much iron.
Anemia is bad for your health, but getting too much iron can also be harmful.
Excess iron is harmful for your liver, pancreas, and heart.
Stick to the daily recommended dosage of iron.
Some people get too much iron because of a hereditary condition called hemochromatosis.
Others get too much from supplements.
References [ + ]