Iron is an essential mineral our body requires to make proteins found in red blood cells and muscle tissue. Iron deficiency can cause unpleasant symptoms that are important to be aware of. Not getting enough iron in your diet can lead to iron-deficiency anemia; people who are at a higher risk for developing anemia include infants and children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, seniors, athletes, vegetarians and women with heavy menstrual periods.
Iron requirements vary by gender and age and range from 8 mg per day for adult males to 27 mg per day for pregnant women. Good sources of dietary iron include meats especially red meats, egg yolks, legumes, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, and iron-fortified grains and cereals. Ask your healthcare provider if a multivitamin or iron supplement is recommended for you. If you’re anemic, you may experience some of the symptoms below; if you have mild iron-deficiency anemia, you may experience no symptoms.
1. Weakness and Fatigue
People who have iron-deficiency anemia commonly experience weakness and fatigue. Make sure you’re getting plenty of rest, and if you’re still feeling tired, you may want to watch out for other symptoms of anemia or contact your health care provider.
Headaches are a symptom of anemia, but can also be caused by other things such as not drinking enough water, stress or eye problems. However, if you think your headaches might be anemia-related, you might want to have your iron levels tested.
3. Shortness of Breath, Dizziness and Fainting
If you’re anemic, your blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen to the rest of your body. Therefore, shortness of breath and feeling dizzy, especially when you stand up quickly, is common. Severe cases of anemia can lead to fainting spells.
4. Feeling Cold
Feeling cold often can result from anemia, but also from hypothyroidism or being underweight. Constant cold hands and feet are common symptoms of anemia. If you’re consistently cold when others feel comfortable and your weight is normal, you may want to have your iron and/or thyroid levels tested.
5. Blue Color to Whites of Eyes, Brittle Nails and Pale Skin Color
Iron-deficiency anemia affects your overall appearance, so if you’re experiencing blue color to the whites of your eyes, brittle nails or pale skin, be sure to contact your health care provider.
6. Slow Cognitive and Social Development in Childhood
Iron deficiency can cause cognitive problems in adults, but children are especially susceptible since their brains are still developing. Children who don’t get enough iron can develop cognitively and socially slower than other children. Pediatricians typically routinely test for anemia in children; request your child be tested if you’re at all unsure they’re getting enough iron in their diet.
7. Organ Damage
In severe cases of anemia that last long term, lack of oxygen in your blood can damage organs such as your brain and heart. Death can occur in severe, so be sure to seek treatment immediately if you’re showing signs of anemia.