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Iron deficiency means you have less iron than your body needs to be healthy. You need iron to make hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen through your body. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, a condition in which your blood doesn’t have enough red blood cells. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, your body doesn’t get enough oxygen.
Iron-deficiency anemia may cause you to look pale and feel tired, or you may not have any symptoms at first. But if your anemia goes untreated, it can cause serious complications. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, your heart has to work harder to get enough oxygen to your organs. Your heart has to work harder even before you notice any symptoms. This extra work can make the wall of your heart muscle thicken, a condition called LVH (left ventricular hypertophy). LVH is serious, and can require hospitalization and sometimes cause death. Treating your anemia right away is essential.
Check with your doctor if you:
Many people, including about 20 percent of women, don’t have enough iron. There are a number of reasons you could develop iron-deficiency anemia. These include:
If you or your doctor thinks you may have anemia, you’ll have a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC). This shows how much hemoglobin you have. Hemoglobin is the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen through your body.
If the CBC test shows that you have anemia, your doctor will do other blood tests to determine what’s causing your anemia, how severe it is, and what the best treatment is. If your doctor thinks you may have bleeding inside your body, the doctor may do a colonoscopy or imaging scans to find out where you are bleeding.
If iron deficiency is the cause of your anemia, you may be treated in the following ways:
With treatment, most people recover from iron-deficiency anemia in 2 to 3 months. You may need to take iron supplements for several months longer, though, to build up your reserves of iron.
You can prevent iron-deficiency anemia by getting enough iron. During times when your body needs more iron, such as pregnancy, increase the amount of iron in your diet or ask your doctor if you should take iron supplements.
If you have had iron-deficiency anemia and want to prevent it from happening again, take your iron supplements exactly as the doctor recommended, even if you’re feeling better.
NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?”
Anemia begins gradually, and at first you may not have any symptoms. As your anemia worsens, your anemia may cause you to: