Sometimes we experience negative symptoms we can’t explain and rush to attribute them to the obvious culprits – poor diet, stress, or lack of sleep – in order to justify them in our minds and get on with life. But sometimes, the reason you feel a certain way isn’t so obvious and easy to treat. When it comes to iron deficiency, the symptoms can easily be mistaken for something else. Do you ever feel tired for no reason? Is your skin paler than usual and you don’t know why? Do your legs often get a strange tingling feeling? If so, you may just be lacking iron. Learn what iron deficiency anemia symptoms look and feel like and why you should be more cautious of this crucial mineral.
Iron can be found in all of the body’s cells and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It also assists muscles in storing and using oxygen and contributes to the transmission of nerve impulses. Most people get all the iron they need from the foods they eat. However, this is not always the case.
Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body isn’t absorbing enough iron into its system, leading to a fall in the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin makes up red blood cells and gives blood its red color. It also enables red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional disorder, affecting some 20-25 percent of the world’s population, especially pregnant women and children. While iron deficiency anemia is more common in developing countries, the United States is no stranger to the phenomenon.
In 2011, nearly 240,000 emergency department visits in the United States resulted in an anemia diagnosis. In 2013, deaths attributed to anemia hit just under 4,900. Iron deficiency anemia is common enough that the United States Department of Health and Human Services has given itself the goal to reduce iron deficiency by 10 percent by 2020.
Many people with iron deficiency anemia aren’t necessarily experiencing serious symptoms and thus don’t get treated or try to change their lifestyles. However, even subtle reactions to a lack of adequate iron in the body can make the difference in energy levels, mood, and overall well being. Learn the symptoms to protect yourself.
Iron Deficiency Symptoms
If you experience the following, you may be deficient in iron.
- Extreme fatigue
- Pale skin
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Frequent infections
- Cold hands and feat
- Brittle nails
- Fast heart beat
- Unusual cravings (i.e. dirt, ice, or starch)
- Poor appetite
- Tingling in the legs
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If you experience any of these iron deficiency symptoms, talk to your doctor and get checked to see if you are lacking in the mineral.
People with a higher risk for developing iron deficiency anemia include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, infants, women and girls who are menstruating, men and women who engage in regular intense exercise, men and women on dialysis, children and adults with ADHD, and those who take iron-depleting medications.
How to Treat Iron Deficiency
Treating iron deficiency anemia usually comes down to an iron-rich diet or iron supplementation. Foods rich in iron include red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, iron-fortified cereals, and peas. You should also choose foods containing vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Foods rich in vitamin C include broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, leafy greens, melons, oranges, peppers, strawberries, tangerines, and tomatoes.
Supplementation may be necessary for some people and you should consult your doctor before adding new supplement pills to your diet. To get the most benefit from iron supplement pills, take them with orange juice. The vitamin C in the orange juice will help the body to absorb the iron more efficiently.
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