1. Is iron deficiency the same thing as anemia? What are the symptoms?
Iron deficiency refers to a decrease in the amount of iron stored in the body, while iron deficiency anemia refers to a drop in the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and/or the amount of hemoglobin within the RBCs. It typically takes several weeks after iron stores are depleted for the level of hemoglobin and production of RBCs to be affected and for anemia to develop. There usually are few symptoms early in iron deficiency, but as the condition worsens and blood levels of hemoglobin and RBCs decrease, then ongoing weakness and fatigue can develop.
As your iron continues to be depleted, you may have shortness of breath and dizziness. If the anemia is severe, chest pain, headaches, and leg pains may occur. Children may develop learning (cognitive) disabilities. Besides the general symptoms of anemia, there are certain symptoms that are characteristic of iron deficiency. These include pica (cravings for specific substances, such as licorice, chalk, dirt, or clay), a burning sensation in the tongue or a smooth tongue, sores at the corners of the mouth, and spoon-shaped finger- and toe-nails.
2. What are some causes of anemia besides iron-deficiency?
There are many different conditions that can cause anemia other than iron deficiency. Some examples include B vitamin deficiency, cancer, and genetic disorders such as sickle-cell disease and thalassemia. However, iron deficiency is the most common cause, which is why iron tests are so frequently performed. If iron tests rule out iron deficiency, another source for the anemia must be found. See the article on Anemia for more on these.
Heme-iron is the easiest form of iron for the body to absorb. It is found in meats and eggs. Non-heme iron is found in a wide variety of plants and in iron supplements. Iron-rich sources include: green leafy vegetables, (such as spinach, collard greens, and kale), wheat germ, whole grain breads and cereals, raisins, and molasses. If you have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia or you are pregnant or breast feeding, vitamin pills or tablets may be needed to provide extra iron. Ask your doctor about the right supplement for you.
The people who typically need iron supplements are pregnant women and those with documented iron deficiency. People should not take iron supplements before talking to their doctor as excess iron can cause chronic iron overload. An overdose of iron pills can be toxic, especially to children.
This article was last reviewed on May 22, 2013. | This article was last modified on July 21, 2013.
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