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Anaemia - iron deficiency: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About anaemia – iron deficiency

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common cause of anaemia which signifies low haemoglobin count. It occurs as a result of deficiency of total body iron which reduces synthesis of the red blood cells called RBCs. These RBCs carry oxygen to different parts of the body.

Anaemia – iron deficiency: Incidence, age and sex

Iron deficiency anaemia is very common among the general population. It can occur in any age group but children and adolescents are more frequently afflicted. It has a very distinct gender bias with an inclination towards women, especially those who are in the child-bearing age group. It is more common in vegetarians as compared to non-vegetarians.

Signs and symptoms of anaemia – iron deficiency: Diagnosis

An individual with iron deficiency anaemia may be asymptomatic most of the time. Clinical features may occur when haemoglobin level drops during a short period of time or is severe. The symptoms are non-specific and include paleness of skin, loss of appetite, exhaustion, irritability, light-headedness and headache. Sometimes, patients with anaemia also complain of difficulty in breathing during strenuous physical activity. Anaemic individuals, especially children may show craving for chalk and clay, etc. Individuals with anaemia may also complain of constant pain in the calves. Ulcers at the corners of the mouth are a frequent occurrence in such individuals.

Examination by doctor may reveal pallor of skin and conjunctiva along with brittle and spoon shaped nails. Irregularities in the heart-beat may be noted on auscultation of chest. The spleen, an organ in the abdomen may be abnormally enlarged in cases of severe, untreated anaemia.

Causes and prevention of anaemia – iron deficiency

Insufficient iron in the body, either due to an inadequate consumption or increased loss may result in anaemia. This may happen due to inadequate consumption of iron in regular diet. Moreover conditions which cause persistent blood loss like increased menstrual bleeding, bleeding stomach ulcers, uterine fibroids and cancer of gastro-intestinal organs may also contribute to anaemia. Certain drugs like NSAIDs which are commonly used as analgesics may also cause blood loss. In some instances, poor absorption of iron by the body may also cause anaemia. Such conditions include Celiac sprue or Crohn’s disease. Greater demand of iron by the body during pregnancy, pubertal spurts and the rapid growth phase of a child may also cause anaemia.

Anaemia – iron deficiency: Complications

Iron deficiency anaemia alone may seldom lead to any serious health problems but may aggravate any co-existing heart condition. Patients with anaemia are also prone to repeated infections. Anaemia in pregnancy may result in low birth weight babies. Persistent fatigue may impair physical stamina and the inability to carry out strenuous physical work. It also results in poor performance in work and studies due to reduced concentration.

Anaemia – iron deficiency: Treatment

Iron deficiency anaemia can be easily diagnosed with simple blood tests. The aim of treatment is to substitute the deficiency and unearth the underlying cause of anaemia. The doctor may prescribe oral iron medications which act effectively when taken with orange juice. Injectible preparations of iron may also be considered in infrequent cases but they are not commonly used due to increased instances of morbidity. Consumption of iron rich foods like spinach, broccoli and raisins are advisable. Consult a gynaecologist if you have increased menstrual bleeding for timely diagnosis and treatment of any abnormal pathology. Regular follow up with your consulting doctor is essential. Even after your haemoglobin has returned to a normal value, it is recommended to continue iron medications in order to replenish levels.