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Iron Deficiency Anemia


What is iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is low levels of red blood cells and hemoglobin caused by a lack of iron in the blood. Iron helps make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is part of your red blood cell and helps carry oxygen to your body. The most common causes are blood loss and not enough iron in the foods you eat.

What increases my risk for IDA?

  • A woman's monthly period
  • Donating blood more than 5 times a year
  • Pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • A vegan diet
  • NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Trauma or bleeding in your intestines

What are the signs and symptoms of IDA?

  • Weakness and tiredness
  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Fast heartbeat or dizziness
  • Headaches or trouble concentrating
  • Pale skin
  • Sore or swollen tongue and mouth
  • Nails that break easily
  • An urge to eat ice, paint, starch, or dirt

How is IDA diagnosed?

  • Blood tests will show how much iron is in your blood and how your body uses the iron.
  • A bowel movement sample will show any blood in your bowel movement.
  • An endoscopy is a procedure used to check for bleeding in your esophagus or stomach. An endoscope is a bendable tube with a light and camera on the end. It is put into your esophagus through your mouth and throat.
  • A colonoscopy is a procedure used to check for bleeding in your intestines. A scope is put into your rectum.

How is IDA treated?

  • Iron or folic acid supplements help increase hemoglobin and red blood cell levels.
  • Bowel movement softeners may be needed if the iron supplements cause constipation.
  • A blood transfusion may be needed if your anemia is severe. This will help replace the blood and iron you have lost.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Eat foods rich in iron and protein. Nuts, meat, dark leafy green vegetables, and beans are high in iron and protein. Do not drink coffee, tea, or other liquids with caffeine. Limit milk to 2 cups a day. You may need to meet with a dietitian to create the right food plan for you.
  • Drink liquids as directed to help prevent constipation. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have shortness of breath, even when you rest.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have dark or bloody bowel movements.
  • You vomit blood.
  • You are too dizzy to stand up.
  • You have trouble swallowing because of the pain in your mouth and throat.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • You are dizzy or very tired.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Iron Deficiency Anemia

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptom checker

Mayo Clinic Reference