Iron deficiency or the lack of iron occurs when a person cannot take in enough iron from food. The deficiency is accompanied by unpleasant symptoms, some of which can even be threatening.
What is iron deficiency?
According to NONPROFITDICTIONARY.COM, iron deficiency is when the ferritin level in the blood is too low. Ferritin is a substance that stores iron. If there is not enough of it, there is an iron deficiency.
The affected person’s skin becomes pale, the nails become brittle and grooved, hair increasingly falls out, and small, white bumps can appear at the corners of the mouth, known as fissures.
Frequent signs are also headaches, dizziness, concentration problems, increased tiredness and an unstable psyche.
The patient with iron deficiency is no longer able to cope with physical and mental stress, as iron is important for the transport of oxygen – it is built into the hemoglobin. Without oxygen, the body generally no longer functions properly.
The most common reason for the iron deficiency is poor diet. He does not eat enough food that contains iron in such a form that the body can incorporate it into the metabolism.
Industrial convenience foods often have a lack of iron, because the amounts they contain are often insufficient for daily needs and can no longer be properly absorbed due to the heavy processing.
Infants fed ready-made milk that is not fortified with iron are at increased risk of developing iron deficiency one day. Ovo or lacto vegetarians and vegans are also particularly at risk, as they simply lack iron-rich meat and cannot always cover their needs with vegetables.
However, internal bleeding over a longer period of time, such as that caused by ulcers or tumors, is also possible. Pregnant women also often suffer from iron deficiency, as do women in general from heavy menstrual bleeding.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
A short-term iron deficiency usually does not result in any major symptoms. People feel tired and exhausted, but these symptoms go away as soon as the body is supplied with sufficient nutrients. Chronic iron deficiency manifests itself as a drop in performance, usually associated with forgetfulness, poor concentration and headaches.
This is often accompanied by nervousness and inner restlessness. In addition, those affected no longer feel an appetite and suffer from various gastrointestinal complaints. In addition, there are difficulty swallowing, heartburn and a burning tongue. In severe cases, faintness attacks may occur. Disturbances in heat regulation are also typical signs. There is also an increased susceptibility to infection.
Externally, an iron deficiency can be seen on the pale skin and mucous membrane. The skin is also unusually dry and injuries occur more quickly. This is noticeable in the form of cracks, injuries and inflammations on the lips and the corners of the mouth.
If there is an iron deficiency, the nails are also brittle and have typical white spots. There is severe hair loss and the remaining hair is dull and brittle. In general, iron deficiency causes a strong feeling of illness, which is accompanied by a number of internal and external signs.
Diagnosis & course
Iron deficiency is diagnosed via the ferritin level in the blood: the doctor will therefore order a small amount of blood to be taken. The iron value would be far too unsteady to actually diagnose a deficiency.
Ferritin, on the other hand, is only available as a storage substance in as large an amount as is needed. The norm of ferritin levels, of course, differs in people of different ages and genders. Iron deficiency usually occurs so slowly that the pathological symptoms and signs are only noticed when the deficiency has progressed.
In addition, the symptoms are only threatening if there is a fainting attack – this is not common, but it only wakes most people up to be examined by a doctor.
Iron deficiency can cause various complications. A possible secondary disease is anemia, which occurs mainly in the case of severe iron losses or a chronic illness. Such anemia leads to a reduced production of red blood cells and as a result, among other things, severe fatigue and headaches.
In addition, pronounced skin changes such as brittle fingernails and cracked corners of the mouth can occur. Cardiovascular problems such as palpitations and chest pain also arise if the patient is persisted for a longer period of time. Rarely, membrane-like structures form in the esophagus, which are associated with swallowing difficulties and shortness of breath.
The so-called pica syndrome can also occur as a result of iron deficiency, in which there is nightly muscle cramps, thin fingernails and a strong desire for earth or strength. In women, iron deficiency can lead to the absence of menstruation and thus further complications. Pregnant women with iron deficiency have an increased risk of premature or stillbirth.
In children and the elderly, possible anemia can also lead to circulatory collapse. The treatment of iron deficiency with the help of iron supplements can cause the stool to turn black temporarily. There is also the risk of allergies and intolerance to the prescribed supplements.
When should you go to the doctor?
If symptoms such as headache, cold hands or feet, and low blood pressure are noticed, the problem may be iron deficiency. A visit to the doctor is recommended if the symptoms do not go away despite a change in diet. If the symptoms are severe, you should speak to a doctor immediately. Warning signs such as muscle cramps, fatigue, and vision problems indicate advanced iron deficiency – if so, speak to a doctor immediately. If complications such as palpitations, chest pain or shortness of breath occur, there is a medical emergency. The nearest clinic must be consulted immediately.
This also applies if the fingernails become deformed, unusual noises in the ears are noticed, or menstrual cramps occur. Pregnant women should seek medical advice at the first signs of iron deficiency. Likewise, diabetes patients, people with immunodeficiency and the elderly or sick. Anyone who belongs to these risk groups should have an iron deficiency clarified quickly. If the symptoms arise as part of the underlying disease, it is best to contact the responsible doctor. Iron deficiency is generally unproblematic as long as the symptoms are treated early.
Treatment & Therapy
The long-term treatment consists of a change in diet. Diet-related iron deficiency is cured by pointing out which foods are high in iron. He takes more of these and prevents the iron deficiency from occurring again.
Spices such as parsley, spearmint or thyme have a high iron content as soon as they have dried, but also cocoa, pork and veal liver, soybeans or amaranth.
In addition, depending on age, the patient is prescribed iron supplements, but these must not be overdosed. Vitamin C can improve the absorption of iron; that is, the absorption by the body. It already helps to drink orange juice, which is unsweetened and natural.
In cancer patients with iron deficiency, iron infusions are often used, which can lead to a sudden improvement in their condition. Vegetarians and vegans must prevent iron deficiency by choosing the right vegetables if they do not want to eat meat again. Regulatory hormones may be given to women who are not pregnant.
Outlook & forecast
A good prognosis for an iron deficiency depends on the one hand on it being recognized as early as possible and on the other hand on the cause. Once the cause has been investigated and an iron deficiency diagnosed, it can usually be treated very well.
A normal iron deficiency due to an unbalanced diet, after bleeding or surgery, during pregnancy or in competitive sports can be treated with special iron supplements without any problems. It becomes more difficult if it is caused by a chronic gastrointestinal disease or a tumor.
Treatment with iron supplements usually improves an iron deficiency within 3 to 6 weeks, but the supplements should be taken for about half a year so that the iron stores are adequately replenished. During this time, the blood will be examined repeatedly in order to check the iron levels regularly and to be able to identify any hidden bleeding.
If the number of red blood cells has increased significantly after about 1 week of use, the prognosis is good. If symptoms persist after taking iron supplements for several weeks, re-examinations must be carried out to see if there are other diseases that still need treatment.
The best way to prevent iron deficiency is to eat the right diet. This can prevent an iron deficiency caused by food. Pregnant women should consult a gynecologist in good time and have their blood tested regularly in order to detect a slight iron deficiency and have it treated before it causes serious damage.
Follow-up care aims to prevent iron deficiency from recurring. After a successful initial therapy, this is usually the responsibility of the patient. He chooses a suitable diet. Fish, meat, poultry and nuts are ideally suited to meet the demand. On the other hand, black tea, coffee and milk should be avoided.
Vitamins are also a must on the menu. Several servings of fruit and vegetables should be consumed daily. An iron deficiency due to an unbalanced diet, an operation, pregnancy or competitive sport can be countered with the measures listed. A doctor will diagnose iron deficiency through blood tests. The so-called ferritin value enables sufficient conclusions to be drawn.
In addition, the typical complaints provide an indication. Longer follow-up care is usually necessary if a gastrointestinal disease or a tumor is causing the iron deficiency. Iron supplements are to be taken as prescribed. Regular blood tests will follow. However, complications cannot be prevented.
The time of diagnosis is decisive for the success of a treatment. The earlier the iron deficiency is detected, the better the prognosis. Therefore, people with persistent fatigue, constant headaches and persistent concentration difficulties should definitely consult a doctor. This is especially true for patients who have already suffered from iron deficiency.
You can do that yourself
Affected people with an iron deficiency can counteract this by changing their diet. Food should contain sufficient iron. Meat, fish, poultry and nuts are ideal. In particular, it makes sense to eat high-quality meat and fish.
The naturally occurring iron in meat can be absorbed better than that in plant-based foods. Still, there are numerous plant foods available that are meaningful. Herbs and spices are worth mentioning. Parsley is rich in iron and vitamin C. vitamin C ensures a significantly better absorption of vegetable iron.
Anyone who is affected by an iron deficiency should completely avoid milk, coffee and black tea. These products hinder the absorption of iron. Still water, on the other hand, is ideal.
In addition, it is advisable to take a biological micronutrient complex every day. With iron and vitamin C, it supports an optimal cell supply. Ideally, it also contains all of the B vitamins and trace elements. Those affected should choose a product in liquid form. This should be made from natural foods. This is the only way to ensure an optimal supply of essential vitamins and minerals.