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Iron Deficiency Anemia

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Iron deficiency anemia occurs when your body doesn't have enough iron.

Iron is important because it helps you get enough oxygen throughout your body. Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a part of your red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen through your body. If you do not have enough iron, your body makes fewer and smaller red blood cells camera.gif. Then your body has less hemoglobin, and you cannot get enough oxygen.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia is caused by low levels of iron in the body. You might have low iron levels because you:

  • Have heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • Are not getting enough iron in food. This can happen in people who need a lot of iron, such as small children, teens, and pregnant women.
  • Have bleeding inside your body. This bleeding may be caused by problems such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, or cancer. This bleeding can also happen with regular aspirin use. Bleeding inside the body is the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia in men and in women after menopause.
  • Cannot absorb iron well in your body. This problem may occur if you have celiac disease or if you have had part of your stomach or small intestine removed.

You may not notice the symptoms of anemia, because it develops slowly and the symptoms may be mild. In fact, you may not notice them until your anemia gets worse. As anemia gets worse, you may:

  • Feel weak and tire out more easily.
  • Feel dizzy.
  • Be grumpy or cranky.
  • Have headaches.
  • Look very pale.
  • Feel short of breath.
  • Have trouble concentrating.

Babies and small children who have anemia may:

  • Be fussy.
  • Have a short attention span.
  • Grow more slowly than normal.
  • Develop skills, such as walking and talking, later than normal.

Anemia in children must be treated so that mental and behavior problems do not last long.

If you think you have anemia, see your doctor. Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history and your symptoms. Your doctor will take some of your blood to run tests. These tests may include a complete blood count to look at your red blood cells and an iron test that shows how much iron is in your blood.

Your doctor may also do tests to find out what is causing your anemia.

Your doctor will probably have you take iron supplement pills and eat foods rich in iron to treat your anemia. Most people begin to feel better after a few days of taking iron pills. But do not stop taking the pills even if you feel better. You will need to keep taking the pills for several months to build up the iron in your body.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 27, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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