While the symptoms of iron deficiency vary, iron deficiency anemia is one of the most well-known — and perhaps the most critical — symptom. When bone marrow does not have enough iron, it cannot produce the hemoglobin necessary for maintaining healthy red blood cells, which can cause iron deficiency anemia. As a result, the bone marrow produces fewer and smaller red blood cells than that of a healthy person. Eventually, this could lead to a reduced oxygen supply to the organs, which may result in organ failure, and in some cases, death.
Besides iron deficiency anemia, some other symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, light-headedness, muscle weakness, irritability, a very pale appearance, and pica — an eating disorder in which the sufferer craves non-food items like clay or chalk. In addition to these symptoms, anemia may also cause hair loss, shortness of breath, fainting, constipation, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, visual hallucinations, sensations of numbness or burning, and rarely, sleep apnea.
Causes and Treatment
Iron deficiency can be caused by excessive bleeding, not eating enough foods that contain iron, or a diet or medical problem that interferes with the body's absorption of the mineral. On average, women are ten times more likely than men to develop this condition due to the blood lost during menstruation. Anemia is the end stage of iron deficiency, but problematic symptoms can arise even before anemia sets in. Any symptoms of low iron should always be taken seriously, as iron deficiency anemia can be life-threatening, but it may be preventable with early treatment.
Many symptoms of iron deficiency can be prevented with a proper diet or with the use of iron supplements, unless it is due to malabsorption. Iron-rich foods include meats of all kinds, green leafy vegetables, beans, and tofu. People who have any health concerns or who are planning changes in their diet should discuss this with a healthcare professional.
The Role of Iron
Iron is an essential nutrient for humans, as well as for many other forms of life. In humans, it helps regulate cellular respiration, providing the main source of energy for many different cell types in the body to do their work. It is also a major component of red blood cells, which provide oxygen to all parts of the body and return carbon dioxide to the lungs for expiration. Iron also helps store oxygen within muscle cells.