Normally, iron deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t have adequate iron. The resulting effect is that it leads to abnormally low levels of red blood cells in the body.
This is because iron is an essential mineral in the formation of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that is saddled with the responsibility of transporting oxygen around the body.
If your body is running low on hemoglobin, your tissues won’t get enough oxygen to carry out your normal day to day activity. This subsequently results in a condition called anemia.
It is worthy of note that there are different types of anemia, however, iron-deficiency anemia is the most prevalent (1).
Some of the most common causes of iron deficiency anemia include inadequate iron intake either due to poor diet or restrictive diet, increased requirements during pregnancy, inflammatory bowel disease, and excessive blood loss through heavy periods or internal bleeding.
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Whichever is the cause, iron deficiency is accompanied by unpleasant symptoms that can affect your quality of life in general. Some of them include, poor health, decreased work productivity, lack of concentration etc. (2).
However, signs and symptoms of iron deficiency vary depending on the severity, age, how quick it develops and current health status.
In some instances, people do not experience symptoms at all.
That is why we bring you 10 common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency. This will help you in early detection… Just sit tight and read on.
The hemoglobin present in red blood cell (RBC) gives blood its red color, so low levels of iron in the blood makes the blood less red. That explains why the skin can lose its rosy and radiating color in people with iron deficiency.
This paleness in people suffering from iron deficiency anemia can appear all over the body, or it can be limited to a particular area such as the gums, face, lower eyelids or inside of the lips and even the nails (6).
When you go for medical examination, this is one of the first things your doctor will look out for. However, this physical examination should be confirmed with a blood test.
Furthermore, paleness is more pronounced in moderate or severe cases of anemia (7).
Do a mirror examination of yourself by pulling down your lower eyelid; the inside should be a vibrant red. If has a yellow or a very pale pink color, this may be an indicative of iron deficiency.
2. Unusual Tiredness
This happens because your body needs this essential mineral for hemoglobin formation. As mentioned earlier in the introduction, hemoglobin is responsible for transport of oxygen around the body.
Now, when your body doesn’t have enough of this protein (hemoglobin), less oxygen gets to your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy.
Additionally, your heart will be saddled with the responsibility of pumping more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which can make you tired (1).
However, tiredness is often considered as a normal part of a busy and modern lifestyle, and as such, it is difficult to diagnose iron deficiency with this symptom alone.
So, many people with iron deficiency experience low energy alongside weakness, low work output, feeling cranky and difficulty concentrating.
3. Headaches and Dizziness
However, this symptom seems to be less common than others and is accompanied by dizziness and lightheadedness (9).
Iron deficiency means low levels of hemoglobin in red blood cells and that means that not enough oxygen can reach the brain cells. The resulting effect is that the blood vessels in the brain can swell causing pressure and headache (11).
It is worthy of note that there are many causes of a headache, however, frequent headaches and dizziness could be a sign of iron deficiency.
4. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a common sign of iron deficiency.
In iron deficiency, hemoglobin level is low and subsequently, oxygen levels will also be low. This means that your muscle tissues won’t get enough oxygen to do normal day to day activities, such as walking and running etc (12).
The resulting effect is that your breathing rate will increase as your body tries to get more oxygen. This is the reason why shortness of breath is a common symptom of iron deficiency (9).
If you find yourself out of breath doing your normal daily task, that you are used to such as climbing stairs, walking and running, iron deficiency could be the cause.
5. Dry and Damaged Hair and Skin
Dry and damaged skin and hair can be a sign of iron deficiency (9).
This is because when your body does not have enough iron, it directs its limited organ to more vital and important functions such as organs.
When this occurs, the skin and hair will be deprived of oxygen, and become dry and weak.
It is completely normal for some hair to fall out during everyday washing and brushing, but if you are losing clumps or much more than normal, it may be due to iron deficiency.
SEE ALSO: Natural Home Remedies to Get Rid of Dry Scalp
6. Heart Palpitations
Heart palpitations, also known as noticeable heartbeats can be another symptom of iron deficiency of iron deficiency.
As mentioned earlier, iron deficiency leads to low levels of hemoglobin meaning the heart has to work extra hard to pump oxygenated blood to other parts of the body.
In rare extreme cases, it can lead to an enlarged heart (cardiomegaly), heart murmur or heart failure (9).
Note, these symptoms tend to be a lot less common and you could suffer from iron deficiency for a long time before experiencing them.
7. Swelling and Soreness of the Tongue and Mouth
Swollen, inflamed, pale or strangely smooth tongue could be a sign of iron deficiency (16).
And as such it is pertinent you do a mirror examination by looking inside or around your mouth for indication of iron-deficiency anemia.
Iron deficiency leads to low hemoglobin which can cause the tongue to become pale, while low levels of myoglobin can cause it to become sore, swollen and smooth.
Myoglobin is an oxygen carrying protein found in your muscle cells (16).
READ ALSO: Home Remedies for Angular Cheilitis.
8. Brittle or Spoon-Shaped Fingernails
It often starts with brittle nails that chip and cracks easily. In later stages, spoon-shaped nails can occur where the middle of the nail dips and edges are raised to give a rounded spoon-like appearance.
However, this symptom is very rare and usually seen in severe cases of iron deficiency.
9. Restless Legs Syndrome
One of the symptoms of iron-deficiency is restless leg syndrome (20).
It is a strong urge to move your legs at rest. Sometimes, it can cause unpleasant and strange crawling or itchy sensations in the legs and feet.
Worst scenarios are experienced at night, meaning that sufferers may struggle to get much sleep.
For now, the causes of restless leg syndrome are not fully understood.
However, statistics show that about 25% of people with restless leg syndrome have iron-deficiency anemia, and the lower the iron levels the worse the symptoms (20).
10. Other Potential Signs and Symptoms
There are other potential signs that could be less intense. These symptoms are less common and can be linked to other health conditions other than iron-deficiency.
Possible Solutions to Iron-Deficiency
If you think you have iron-deficiency anemia, take note of the following recommendations.
1. Talk to Your Doctor
If you think you are showing some of these signs and symptoms, the first point of call is to talk to your doctor. A blood test will confirm or dispute these symptoms.
2. Eat Iron-Rich Foods
If it is confirmed by your doctor that your iron deficiency is caused by lack of iron in your diet, then you need to up your iron intake by consuming more iron-rich foods such as
- Red meat, pork, and poultry
- Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
- Peas, beans, and other pulses
- Iron-fortified foods
- Seeds and nuts
Help Boost Your Iron Absorption
There are some foods that will help your body absorb iron better. Ensure to eat enough vitamin C-rich foods to boost your iron absorption.
It is also important to avoid foods that inhibit iron absorption. Some of these foods include coffee, tea and calcium-rich foods such as whole grain cereals and dairy products.
Take Iron Supplements
If iron supplements are being recommended by your doctor, then you have to follow them. But you should take iron supplements only as a last resort and if recommended by your doctor.
However, this is likely the case if you cannot restore your iron levels via diet alone.
Also, you can take orange juice to boost iron absorption.