Iron is crucial in the blood and particularly in the red blood cells where it is used to help carry oxygen around the body to where it is needed. This in other words means that if you have a low iron count in your bloodstream, you will most likely also have a low red blood cell count and a low oxygen count and that will result in many unwanted symptoms. This condition is called anemia and being able to identify the symptoms of anemia is highly important so that you can spot the problem when it occurs and thus help to address it. Here we will look at the symptoms of low iron, and the things you can then do to increase it again.
Note: Low iron is not the only cause of anemia. Likewise anemia can be caused by a low amount of B12 or folic acid – which are also used to create red blood cells.
Low Iron Symptoms (Anemia)
Oxygen is used in the body for energy. As it is reactive it is used to help break the bonds in glucose and release the energy that we need, and likewise it is used to break down fat. This is why during cardiovascular exercise we pant and draw deeper breaths as we are using that to break down glucose and glycogen stores in order to use them for energy and fuel our activities. When you have low iron this then means that you can’t as easily get the oxygen around your body and that in turn will result in your feeling like you have less energy and are less able to get up and go.
Shortness of Breath
As a result of having less oxygen in your blood you will be forced to circulate it more quickly and take in more oxygen when you breath. This will cause breathlessness and gasping.
Faintness and dizziness are a result of your getting less oxygen to your brain which causes you to go light headed. This also occurs when you get very shocked and your available blood and oxygen rushes to other areas of the brain, or when you stand up too quickly. This is why when you faint your face often goes pale. When you have anemia the same thing is happening throughout your body. You may also suffer from headaches as a result.
In order to circulate oxygen and red blood cells you use your heart to pump the blood around your body. This then means that your heart is forced to work harder when there is less oxygen in your blood and that results in angina AKA chest pain.
Pale Skin Color
As there are fewer red blood cells in your body this results in your skin taking on a paler tone as there is less blood at the surface of your skin. If you look unwell most of the time then this might suggest anemia. There are some areas around the body too that normally look particularly red – for instance the nail beds or just below the eye. Examine this area to see if it looks paler than usual. The skin may also feel cold to touch, also a result of the lower blood pressure.
Pica is a condition in which you get unusual and intense cravings – often for things that are not edible such as dirt, grout, metal etc. This is often your body’s way of telling you that you lack something crucial in your diet. If you find yourself craving metal in particular then of course this could be a sign of low iron. Likewise a craving for spinach or broccoli might also point to low iron.
Altered Stool Color
A good indication that you have a low iron count as opposed to low B12 for instance is pale looking stool. Iron makes the stool appear darker, and if you take supplements then the opposite will happen and it may look positively black.
Burning Sensation in the Tongue
This is another common side effect of mineral and vitamin deficiencies and along with burning on your tongue you may also find that you get burning in your throat (in some rare cases an indicator of cancer) and burning in the corners of your mouth. The exact cause of this is not certain.
Altered Sense of Touch
You may also find that in extreme cases you suffer from nerve damage as a result of the lack of oxygen. This can result in tingling and particularly in the extremities.
Certain risk factors make anemia more likely and these can help make diagnosing anemia and spotting it easier. For instance women are roughly seven times more likely to experience anemia than men, and particularly if they have particularly heavy periods. This is because a lot of blood is lost during the periods and this blood will include a lot of iron and red blood cells.
Likewise other risk factors also point to anemia as being more likely. For instance if you have lost a lot of blood for other reasons then this will mean you are more likely to suffer with anemia. Diarrhea might cause anemia if you lose blood in the stool. Finally your diet might also leave you more prone to iron deficiencies and particularly if substances high in iron are missing. For instance if you don’t eat many green leafy vegetables and salads then this puts you at higher risk of an iron deficiency, and the same is true of vegetarians as red meats are an important source of iron (as well as vitamin B12).
If you suffer from the symptoms of anemia and are also in one of the main at-risk groups then a doctor might recommend a blood test and through this they will be able to ascertain the amount of iron in your blood and potentially identify cases of anemia or other deficiencies.
If you are suffering from anemia then there are a few things that can be done to solve the problem. Your doctor will like put you on supplementation with pure iron tablets which will help to make up for the lack of iron in your blood (these should not be taken by healthy individuals as it will put you over your maximum intake). Alternatively for milder cases it is possible to supplement with commercial iron tablets or multi-vitamin and mineral tablets. Finally, alterations to your diet will also help, and it’s important to add red meats, spinach and other green vegetables and leafs.