Anemia is a condition marked by a deficiency or abnormality of red blood cells, which results in an inadequate supply of oxygen to body tissues. The most common type of anemia is Iron Deficiency Anemia. The mineral iron plays an important role in synthesizing the blood protein, hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen to your body’s tissues and muscles for effective functioning. However, when you have too few or abnormal red blood cells - or low or abnormal hemoglobin - the cells in your body will become oxygen deficient and you might experience a range of symptoms, from fatigue to pallor and headaches.
Who/how many people does it affect?
Anemia is the most common blood disorder. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it affects more than 3 million Americans per year.
The majority of people don’t realize they are living with Anemia until they have a comprehensive blood test.
What causes iron deficiency?
- Inadequate iron intake:
- consuming too little iron through your diet over time can cause a deficiency
- heavy menstrual bleeding can lead to iron deficiency
- iron deficiency in a pregnant woman puts the baby at risk of developmental delays
- Internal bleeding:
- stomach ulcers, tissue growths known as polyps, or colon cancer can lead to internal bleeding and subsequent iron loss
- Iron malabsorption:
- celiac disease or intestinal surgery, such as gastric bypass, can limit your body’s ability to absorb an adequate amount of iron
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of iron deficiency include:
- fatigue (most common)
- pale or yellow skin
- chest pain
- irregular or fast heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- leg tingling
- cold hands or feet
- brittle nails
What are risk factors for anemia?
You might be at greater risk for developing anemia if you have any of the following chronic conditions:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Autoimmune disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Thyroid disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
How is anemia diagnosed?
Anemia can be diagnosed through a complete blood cell, or CBC, test. This will measure the component amounts in the blood, including Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells, Hemoglobin, Hematocrit and Platelets. A CBC test is usually part of a routine physical. If you are experiencing some of these symptoms and/or believe you may be anemic and have not received a CBC test, be sure to consult your doctor.
What might help once diagnosed?
If you are diagnosed with Iron Deficiency Anemia following lab tests or imaging, your doctor might prescribe an iron supplement. Under treatment, symptoms should resolve within months. I am mildly anemic and like Solgar’s Gentle Iron Vegetable Capsules, pictured above, because the capsules are easy on my stomach and free of common allergens. However, do not just take an iron supplement if you are unsure if you have a deficiency and never take more than your doctor recommends, as a build-up of iron can be toxic with early symptoms including stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
Good sources of dietary iron include:
- red meat (or tofu if you are vegetarian/vegan)
- dark leafy greens (like spinach)
- dried fruits (like apricots)
- certain iron-enriched cereals
Just make sure that the dried fruits and cereals don’t contain too much sugar.