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Iron deficiency anaemia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common cause of anaemia. It is detected clinically by a pale conjunctiva of the eye and pale skin. Low haemoglobin count in blood test confirms the diagnosis of anaemia. This kind of anaemia occurs as a result of deficiency of total body iron which reduces synthesis of the red blood cells called RBCs, which carry oxygen to different parts of the body.

Iron deficiency anaemia: Incidence, age and sex

Iron deficiency anaemia is a very commonly seen phenomenon in the general population. It may 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 iron deficiency anaemia: Diagnosis

The clinical features of iron deficiency anaemia are vague 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, show craving for chalk, clay, etc. Individuals with anaemia may also complain of constant pain in the calves. Affected individuals may also complain of frequent ulceration, especially at the corners of mouth. However many individuals may even remain asymptomatic if the occurrence of anaemia has had a gradual onset.

Detailed physical examination by the doctor may reveal pallor of the skin and conjunctiva along with brittle and spoon-shaped nails. Irregularities in the heart-beat may be noted on auscultation of the chest. An organ in the abdomen called the spleen may be abnormally enlarged in cases of severe, untreated anaemia. The diagnosis is confirmed by specific blood tests which show low haemoglobin level and iron level in blood.

Causes and prevention of iron deficiency anaemia

Iron deficiency anaemia results from insufficient iron in the body, either due to inadequate consumption or increased loss. This may happen due to inadequate consumption of iron in the regular diet. Moreover conditions, which cause persistent blood loss like increased menstrual bleeding, bleeding stomach ulcers, uterine fibroids and cancer of gastro-intestinal organ may also contribute to anaemia. Not only this, 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 also plays a role in causation of anaemia. Such conditions include Coeliac sprue or Crohn’s disease. Greater demand of iron by body during pregnancy, pubertal spurts and rapid growth phase of the child may also result in iron deficiency anaemia.

Iron deficiency anaemia: Complications

Iron deficiency anaemia alone may rarely lead to any serious health problems. But it may aggravate any co-existing heart condition. Not only this, patients with anaemia are prone to repeated infections. Anaemia in pregnancy may result in low birth weight babies. Persistent fatigue may impair physical stamina and inability to carry out strenuous physical work. It also results in poor performance in work and studies due to reduced concentration.

Iron deficiency anaemia: Treatment

The goal of treatment of iron deficiency anaemia 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 treating doctor is essential. Even after your haemoglobin has returned to a normal value, it is recommended to continue iron medications in order to replenish stores.