Hematology
Iron Deficiency Anemia in Women

​​​Overview:

  • Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia. It occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron
  • A person with iron deficiency anemia does not notice its symptoms if it is mild or moderate, but may feel them if it is severe.
  • Its symptoms include: general fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and cold hands and feet.
  • It could be treated with iron supplements, a change of eating habits, or surgery.
  • Routine check-ups are the number one way to prevent this type of anemia.

What is iron deficiency anemia?
Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia, and it occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. A person with iron deficiency anemia does not notice its symptoms if it is mild or moderate, but may feel them if it is severe. Its symptoms mainly include: Fatigue, exhaustion, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Cause:
Anemia occurs when you have a decreased level of red blood cells (RBCs) which are responsible for carrying oxygen to your tissues. When the body lacks iron, it cannot produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen, which leads to anemia. Low iron in the body may be due to other reasons, such as:
  • Blood loss, through:
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding over an extended period of time.
  • Digestive system conditions, like an ulcer in your stomach or regular use of some medications such as Aspirin and ibuprofen.
  • Undergoing a surgery.
  • Irregular and frequent blood donation.
  • Eating less iron than what the body needs. This may happen when you follow wrong eating habits, like a vegetarian diet, because iron is found in large amounts in meat and fish. Moreover, the amount of iron your body needs depends on your age and your current conditions (e.g. pregnancy and breastfeeding). The quantities of iron that your body needs are shown in the table below:
​​Age
Non-pregnant non-breastfeeding women
Pregnant women
Breastfeeding women
14-18 years
15mg
27mg
10mg
19-50 years
18mg
27mg
9mg
51+ years
8mg
​ -
​-
  • An issue with iron absorption.
  • Iron deficiency anemia may occur despite sticking to the recommended intake of iron. The body may be unable to absorb iron due to some intestinal and digestive problems, such as: Celiac disease, chronic colitis, and Helicobacter pylori infection (Helicobacter pylori).
  • Some diseases that cause iron deficiency anemia (e.g. kidney disease in its advanced stages).

Symptoms:
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue, exhaustion and weakness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Headache, dizziness, and pale face
  • Irregular pulse
  • strange cravings to eat objects that aren’t food (e.g. dirt, paint, or clay)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Brittle, spoon‐shaped nails
  • Cracks around the mouth
  • Swollen tongue

Complications:
  • A person with anemia is more prone to recurrent infections.
  • When you’re anemic, your heart has to pump more blood to make up for the low amount of oxygen. This can lead to irregular heartbeat.  In severe cases, it can lead to heart failure or an enlarged heart.
  • If a pregnant woman has iron deficiency anemia, her baby may be born prematurely or with a low birth weight.

Diagnosis:
Iron deficiency anemia can be diagnosed by a clinical exam or blood tests to determine its cause.

Treatment:
Treatment is determined according to the cause and severity of the iron deficiency anemia. Treatment for this type of anemia may involve taking iron supplements, changing dietary habits, or surgery. If the cause is blood loss for a reason other than menstruation, the source of the bleeding must be identified and stopped, and surgery may be required.
Iron supplements:
These supplements are prescribed in the case of a lack of iron intake, however, dietary habits must also be changed, such as: Reducing drinking tea because it impedes iron absorption. Your vitamin C intake should also be increased along with your iron intake because vitamin C improves iron absorption.

Prevention:
Primary prevention recommendations for teenage girls and women of childbearing age:
  • Most teenage girls and women of childbearing age do not need to take an iron supplement. However, they must eat foods rich in iron, such as meat and fish. They must also eat fruits, such as pomegranates, and vegetables, such as spinach and beets. Their bodies should get enough foods that enhance iron absorption and contain vitamin C, like lemons and oranges.
  • Women on diets low in iron may be at risk of getting iron deficiency anemia. In that case, it becomes crucial to increase iron intake.

Secondary prevention recommendations:
  • Starting from adolescence, girls and women must undergo routine tests every 5-10 years to detect iron deficiency anemia.
  • Annual anemia tests must be performed on women who have iron deficiency risk factors, such as heavy menstruation or other problems causing severe blood loss, low iron absorption, a previous diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia.


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