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Understanding Anemia -- Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Anemia? continued...

Anemia Caused by Iron Deficiency
Without adequate iron, the body is unable to produce normal red blood cells. In young women, iron deficiency anemia can result from heavy menstrual bleeding. Non-menstruating women or men who develop iron deficiency need to have a colon exam (colonoscopy or barium enema) to help identify the source of chronic bleeding.

With iron deficiency anemia, your doctor will probably recommend iron supplements that contain the ferrous form of iron, which your body can absorb easily. Timed-release iron supplements are not a good choice for most people, because iron is primarily absorbed in the upper part of the digestive tract. If you use iron supplements, remember the following cautions:

  • Always consult with your doctor before taking iron supplements. Excess iron intake can be harmful. Symptoms of iron overload include fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, irritability, heart disease, and joint problems.
  • Iron supplements -- like all supplements and any medication -- should be kept out of the reach of children. Iron poisoning is the most common cause of accidental poisoning in young children. It can prove fatal in a matter of hours. Symptoms of poisoning in a child include dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Seek medical help immediately.
  • Watch for side effects. You may need to continue taking iron supplements for up to one year. Taking iron supplements with food can help prevent common side effects, which may include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain. Let your doctor know if you continue to have side effects. Different formulations are available.
  • Watch for drug interactions. Tell your doctor if you are being treated for another condition. For example, calcium supplements interfere with iron absorption, so it is best to take them at different times of the day.
  • The body absorbs iron best when taken in a mildly acidic medium, so taking iron with a half-glass of orange juice or with vitamin C may be helpful.

Your doctor may also recommend that you increase the amount of iron in your diet. Good dietary sources of iron include red meat, beans, egg yolk, whole-grain products, nuts, and seafood. Many processed foods and milk are also reinforced with iron.

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