Iron deficiency anaemia 

Introduction 

Iron deficiency anaemia occurs when there is a reduced number of red blood cells because of a decrease in the amount of iron in the body 

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Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells.

Iron is used to produce red blood cells, which help store and carry oxygen in the blood. If you have fewer red blood cells than is normal, your organs and tissues will not get as much oxygen as they usually would.

There are several different types of anaemia and each one has a different cause, although iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type.

Other forms of anaemia can be caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or folate in the body. Read more about vitamin B12 and folate deficiency anaemia.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia

The main symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia include:

If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your GP, as they can diagnose iron deficiency anaemia through a simple blood test.

Read more about the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia and diagnosing iron deficiency anaemia.

What causes iron deficiency anaemia?

There are many things that can lead to a lack of iron in the body.

In men and post-menopausal women, the most common cause is bleeding in the stomach and intestines. This can be caused by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a stomach ulcer, stomach cancer or bowel cancer.

In women of reproductive age, the most common causes of iron deficiency anaemia are heavy periods and pregnancy (as your body needs extra iron for your baby).

Unless you're pregnant, it's rare for iron deficiency anaemia to be caused just by a lack of iron in your diet. However, if you do lack dietary iron, it may mean you're more likely to develop anaemia than if you have one of the problems mentioned above.

Read more about the causes of iron deficiency anaemia.

How iron deficiency anaemia is treated

Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia involves taking iron supplements to boost the low levels of iron in your body. This is usually effective and the condition rarely causes long-term problems.

You will need to be monitored every few months to check the treatment is working and that your iron levels have returned to normal.

The underlying cause will also need to be treated so that you don't get anaemia again. You may also be advised to increase the amount of iron in your diet.

Good sources of iron include:

  • dark-green leafy vegetables, such as watercress and curly kale
  • iron-fortified cereals or bread
  • brown rice 
  • pulses and beans
  • nuts and seeds
  • meat, fish and tofu
  • eggs
  • dried fruit, such as dried apricots, prunes and raisins

Read more about treating iron deficiency anaemia.

Further problems

If iron deficiency anaemia is left untreated, it can make you more susceptible to illness and infection, as a lack of iron in the body affects your immune system (the body’s natural defence system).

Severe iron deficiency anaemia may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, such as tachycardia (an abnormally fast heartbeat) or heart failure (when your heart is not pumping blood around your body very well).

Pregnant women with severe or untreated anaemia also have a higher risk of complications before and after birth.

Read more about the complications of iron deficiency anaemia.

Page last reviewed: 24/03/2014

Next review due: 24/03/2016

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Comments

The 13 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

sowhat said on 02 April 2014

This site misses out one important type of iron deficiency - Non-Anaemic Iron Deficiency.

Yet the other site, which is a highly recommended patient site, has full information on it.

Last year I had my blood tested a few times and while my haemoglobin was within the normal range every time, one of the tests uncovered my ferritin level was <20ug/L. My white cell count (WBC)was also noticed to be severely decreased.

None of the NHS medical practitioners took in account my ferritin blood tests and a couple made racial assertions about my WBC. As no-one else in my family has reduced WBC levels I though the result was odd. (We have an inherited RBC condition so a lot of people have been tested.)

As my hair wasn't growing I went to see a trichologist and showed her my blood test results. She immediately told me to take iron and a B-complex supplement. I've just been tested and my WBC is now in lower part of the normal range.

If the trichologist - who isn't a trained medical professional - hadn't done this I would have now had iron deficiency anaemia as non-anaemic iron deficiency is a precursor to iron deficiency anaemia. (I have heavy periods.) In other words I would have continued to suffer due to the ignorance of NHS GPs.

It seems like said GPs in the NHS need to have more training to stop patients suffering from this easily treatable condition.

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cjbears79 said on 02 July 2013

I have just been told that my iron levels are 6.5. Normal levels are between 50 and 300. A little scared now.

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tomjerry said on 30 May 2013

I have been diagnosed and treated with iron deficiency anemia in the past and recently experienced same symptoms. Blood test show I have half normal iron levels but haemoglobin levels are normal. Prescribed iron supplement but informed that this would only alleviate symptoms slightly as no amemia present and that symptoms could continue for some time with no reason. I will take iron supplements and hope it will alleviate symptoms better than predicted but would appreciate any advice from anyone with similar experience and some information on affect low iron levels have on body. Thanks

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bombalumba said on 29 May 2013

The range used by the doctors on the NHS is not what is used in other countries. in Switzerland for example the ranges of 13-150ng are laughed at. they say a minimum of 50ng for women is required for the ferritin. they even offer to coach any willing NHS doctors for the treatments. symptoms include depression, high susceptibility for infections, dizzyness, nausea, trouble concentrating etc
http://www.coaching-for-health.net/eisenzentrum/AM3_e.pdf study from swiss doctors. wish english doctors would read it and take it serious to stop unnecessary suffering....

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wainy said on 28 May 2013

I am B12 & folic anemia deficient and I have struggled for manyyears to take any form of iron. I do have a poor diet as I dont eat fruit/veg so I mainly eat meat and potaotes. I have just sourced an item called spatone which you add to a small amount of orange juice each day. So far I have not had any side effects like I do with the iron tablets. Can anyone tell me if they know if they are any good?
thanks

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Mobasshir said on 11 May 2013

Hi Maurizio,

How is your wife? My wife has gone through similar experience. Any advice?

Regards
Mo

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Steve_P said on 21 March 2013

Many thanks for making this problem clear. My GP has no time and is too rushed to listen to her patients or read medical history on screen in front of her.

She sent me for painful and degrading tests when all she needed to do was look and see that I am on medication for acid reflux, due to a hiatus hernia. I even mentioned the medication in my consultation with her.

I also mentioned the negative result for blood in my stools fgrom the bi-annual bowel screening test I had just had that month.

I drink copious amounts of tea and coffee and eat lots of dairy products. Something the GP didn't ask about.

So I thank this NHS site for taking the time to make the reasons clear rather than jumping in with passing me on for hospital tests.

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rosbee said on 09 June 2012

I have anaemia b12 deficiency for which I have 3monthly injections. I now also have anaemia iron deficiency. I am also diabetic. As I mainly eat a vegetarian diet with little or no meat, except for chicken or fish I am wondering what I can add to my diet to help myself maybe improve.

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jomc20 said on 04 September 2011

I think from other comments on this page that people are expecting advice from the NHS. THis is just a forum for patients to comment. I am not a health professional but I can't help wondering if our poor diet is to blame for the many cases of anaemia these days. In other countries parents give their children the best quality food they can afford. Here in Britain they seem to live on fast food and frozen processed food such as chips, pizza, chicken nuggets etc. This cannot be good for growing bones or for the immune system. I am sure this is why an in-law's daughter is thin and sickly and not growing as she should for her age (12). Adults, too, skip meals, are obese and don't cook fresh food. My mother (80) just had major surgery and was anaemic as a result but she is already getting over the anaemia due to iron sulphate tablets (cause bad constipation!) and a healthy diet of fish, red meat and home-grown vegetables.

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cmilnedunn said on 23 April 2011

It may be worth considering an Iron Infusion instead of blood transfusions - or have kidney test (bloods) done to see if these are working property or if you are low in b12? which helps absorption. also heavy periods can cause anemia. what ever problem that you have anaemia can and does make you feel very ill as the levels get lower. excessively tired, palpertations very pale, ulcers etc.
It is worth being persistant with the doctors and although they may prescribe iron tablets/tonic this must be taken and if it does not work, insist that you go and see a specialist and have everything checked out.
It has taken me many years of feeling very sick to finally find the answer. I have been in and out of hospital a&e with them not finding the problems. I have stage 3 Kidney Disease and excessively bad periods (im 46) but once this was diagnosed I had an iron infusion and all the other symptoms dissapeared - and I got my life back for 7/8 months, now Im waiting for another one. its like a miracle and worth the long haul of diagnosis !

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justinagc said on 16 December 2010

my son 5 years old has been sick for all the year past.from nov.2009 until now dec 2010.all the time had an infection ,or tonssilitis inflamated,or get a virus .every mounth during from last year,he get prescription with antibiotics and a lot of paracetamol and nurofen.I ask my doctor why he's geting sick all the time ,and he was telling me i's normal,many children get sick on this age .I ask my doctor for a blood test to many times,and he telling me i's not nesesary.now my son is again sick with prescription of antibiotics,and I deceided to go for a private clinic, to do the blood test. I 've got the result of the blood test and my son had a very low iron and calcium,and now I got the answer. Why my son getting sick all the time!! Why my doctor doesn't refer us for a blood test? What can I do next? Thank you regards Andrew's mum

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TPK said on 19 June 2010

This is for Maurizio:

My partner has similar symptoms and she has been diagnosed 3 days ago with hypothyroidism. I suggest you ask your partner's GP to get her blood tests done for thyroid levels. Hope you nail down the cause.

Regards,
Pav

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maestro40 said on 15 February 2010

My partner has a severe iron deficiency but we struggle to get serious treatment going through the NHS system.
Her symptoms have becoming increasingly alarming
rapid heartbeat, dizziness, headaches, pale skin, hair loss, being very tired all the time and sometimes mentally confused.
Still, every time she sees a GP they find very easy to blame it on heavy periods and refer her to an Haematologyst. The Haematologist cannot find anything and refer her to a Gynaecologist who also cannot find anything and refer her back to an Haematologist. Months go by and she struggle with her day to day life and our children are suffering because of this. Finally last year she was given a 5 session blood transfusion and after that she felt well for 6 months but since December all the symptoms are back again and actually worst then before. Again she had to go through many appointments with GP and specialists to get referred for a blood transfusion (one session only this time) which will probably fix the problem only for a month or two.
My questions are: Can the referral process for getting blood transfusion become faster now that the NHS has a record of her case and can more detailed exams be carried out to find out the source of her problem?
She could have internal bleeding caused by ulcers or at the worst cancer and if that is not going to kill her a heart attack will because she is continually out of breath which for a lean and active woman age 38 is not normal.
We would appreciate your advice as life has been hell for the last 3 years and we don't seem to be taken seriously by the GP's in our surgery.

Faithfully
Maurizio

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