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, the end-stage of iron deficiency. It typically takes several weeks after iron stores are depleted for the hemoglobin level to decrease, resulting in reduced production of RBCs. There are few symptoms seen in the early stages of iron deficiency, but as the condition worsens and blood levels of hemoglobin and RBCs decrease, ongoing weakness, pallor, and fatigue can develop.
2. What foods can I eat to increase the iron in my diet?
The form of iron that is easiest for the body to absorb is found in meats and eggs. Other iron-rich sources include: green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, collard greens, and kale), wheat germ, whole grain breads and cereals, raisins, and molasses.
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.
4. Does anemia due to iron deficiency happen quickly or does it take a long time?
Iron deficiency anemia comes on gradually. When your rate of iron loss exceeds the amount of iron you absorb from the gut, iron stores are slowly used up. At this stage, ferritin will be low, but serum iron and TIBC are usually normal and there is no anemia. As the iron deficiency worsens, serum iron levels fall, TIBC and transferrin rise, and anemia starts to develop. With prolonged or severe iron deficiency, the red cells become small and pale due to decreased hemoglobin levels. Reticulocyte production decreases, except following iron therapy.
Yes. Every time you donate a pint of blood, your body loses about 250 mg of iron. The level of serum ferritin, which is a reflection of the total amount of storage iron, drops with each donation and then returns to normal over time. Other tests, such as serum iron and TIBC, are not as affected by blood donation.
6. My doctor instructed me to take my iron supplement and then have an iron test done. Why would that be?
Your doctor may suspect that you are not absorbing the iron you need from your supplements and your diet, so she may ask that you have your iron level checked shortly after you take your iron supplement. If you take iron and then have an abnormally low test result, you may have an underlying condition affecting the absorption of iron. You may need to be treated for the condition causing the malabsorption for your iron levels to return to normal.
This article was last reviewed on May 24, 2013. | This article was last modified on July 21, 2013.
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