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Iron Deficiency Anemia


What is iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is a lack of iron in the blood. The most common causes are blood loss and not enough iron in the foods you eat. Iron is part of your blood and helps carry oxygen to your body.

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
  • Trauma or bleeding in your intestines

What are the signs and symptoms of IDA?

You may not have any signs and symptoms, or you may have any of the following:

  • 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 may be needed to test for blood.
  • 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?

  • Medicines:
    • Iron supplements will help replace iron in your body. Take iron on an empty stomach. It is absorbed better when your stomach is empty. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron. Take iron with a vitamin C supplement or a glass of orange juice. Do not eat or drink any dairy products within 2 hours after you take iron. Take iron with a small amount of food if it upsets your stomach.
    • Bowel movement softeners help treat or prevent constipation caused by iron supplements.
  • 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 iron-rich and protein-rich foods. This includes nuts, meat, dark leafy green vegetables, and beans. Limit caffeine. You may also need to limit milk to 2 cups a day. You may need to meet with a dietitian to create the right food plan for you. Ask your caregiver for more information about an iron-rich diet.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask your caregiver how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Liquids will help prevent constipation.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • 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.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have trouble swallowing because of the pain in your mouth and throat.
  • You have shortness of breath, even when you rest.
  • You have blood in your bowel movement or vomit.
  • You are too dizzy to stand up.

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 caregivers 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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