April 12, 2016 389
Iron Deficiency Anaemia
Iron deficiency is the most common type of nutritional deficiency in developing countries and industrialized countries. Would you believe us if we tell you that 2 billion people around the world (which is about 30% of the population) is anaemic? Staggering number isn’t it! So, we intend to equip you with some information on iron deficiency anaemia this time. Iron deficiency anaemia refers to anaemic condition that occurs due to insufficient iron in our body. The main cause of iron deficiency can be broken down into two categories:
- Increased loss of iron from the body due to
- Chronic blood loss resulting from excessive menstruation or bleeding. Excessive bleeding can be a consequence of peptic ulcer, haemorrhoids, gastritis or other conditions
- Increased use of iron by the growing foetus in pregnancy
- Decreased absorption of iron into the body due to
- Poor nutritional intake
- Surgical procedure that removes partial or total stomach
- Lack of gastric acid in the stomach
- Chronic diarrhea
- Malabsorption due to coeliac disease (an autoimmune disease towards gluten that causes small bowel damage)
What are the Symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia?
The symptoms and signs of anaemia depend on its severity. The fact that many of the symptoms are very common ones is the primary reason for this deficiency to be left undiagnosed in many cases. Many of the iron deficiency anaemia symptoms are similar to other anaemias and the list is as below:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold hands and feet
- Unusual food cravings known as pica
- Fast heartbeat
- Brittle nail or hair loss
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Often, no symptoms
What might be the symptoms of anaemia in babies/young children?
- Being fussy
- Having short attention span
- Slower growth than normal
- Slower development of skills such as walking and talking
How can anaemia be diagnosed?
A complete blood count, physical examination and history taking are the diagnostic means to find out if someone is suffering from this condition. The reason for taking complete blood count test as well as iron test and the possible results (when there is deficiency) are:
- RBC size and colour: RBCs are paler and smaller in size than normal
- Haematocrit (Percentage of blood volumes made up by RBCs): Lower than normal. Normal range for adult women is 34.9-44.5% while for men is 38.8-50%.
- Haemoglobin: Lower than normal. Normal range for men is 13.5-17.5 g/dL and 12.0-15.5 g/dL for women. Normal range for children varies depending on their age and sex.
- Ferritin: Low level of ferritin suggests low level of iron in the body. Ferritin is a protein that helps in storage of iron. Normal range of ferritin for male is 12-300 ng/mL (nanogram per milliliter) and for female is 12-150 ng/mL.
- Iron: Lower than normal. Normal range is 60-170 mcg/dL (microgram per deciliter)
Some other diagnostic tests like endoscopy, colonoscopy and ultrasound are usually taken to find out the source of bleeding if any.
*Please note that the normal ranges might differ slightly for different reference sources
Can Iron Deficiency Anaemia result in complications?
The complications of iron deficiency anaemia seem to affect preschool children and pregnant women more. In children, such deficiency leads to mental, motor or behavioral problems. It is crucial to understand that sometimes these complications can persist even after treating the anaemia. On the other hand, pregnant women with iron deficiency anaemia face the following risks:
- Give birth to premature/underweight babies
- Postpartum depression
- There might be a need for blood transfusion if excessive blood is lost during labour.
On another note, it is very unlikely that the deficiency can be transferred from mothers to infants because fetus absorbs sufficient iron from mother during gestation.
What diet should one follow to get rid of Iron Deficiency Anaemia?
Iron deficiency anaemia is one of those types of anaemia that can be prevented or treated via diet (in addition to therapy usually). Taking food rich in iron can help restore the iron level in the body. Some of the iron-rich foods are:
- Red meat
- Dried fruits (apricots, prunes, raisins)
- Green leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
Vitamin C helps in iron absorption so it is a very good idea to consume iron-rich food/iron pills (in case of pregnant women) with orange juice or any other food with high vitamin C content. Food like milk, soy protein, egg yolks, coffee and tea can potentially reduce iron absorption so avoid taking them concurrently with iron-rich food. It is highly advisable to talk to your doctor about the medications that can block iron absorption when you are trying to restore your iron level.
How is Iron Deficiency Anaemia treated in infants/toddlers?
Once diagnosed with low iron content, paediatricians prescribe iron drops for infants.
If you are feeding your toddler with iron-fortified formula (milk formula consisting of iron), it is advisable not give the iron drops as the combination provides excessive iron that can be detrimental to their health.
Talk to your doctor about this when your child is prescribed for iron drops. If you stop breastfeeding your child before 12 months of age, use iron-fortified formula. Feed your toddler with food rich in iron if you either stop breastfeeding or using iron-fortified formula after 12 months. Ask your doctor about giving vitamins with iron to your child.
So, how often do you do your blood test to check if you are anaemic? Don’t wait until it’s too late; think about yourself and also your loved ones. Check out your health status by grabbing our limited Health Screening Packages today!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
by Thanusha Ganesan
Final year pharmacy student. Highly curious and immensely enthusiastic. I strongly believe that to be happy is to indulge in the spirit of giving. View all articles by Thanusha Ganesan.