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Anemia is defined as a condition in which there is a lack of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein contained in red blood cells and it is responsible for transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide through the body. Each molecule of hemoglobin contains one iron atom, and iron is very important for proper function of hemoglobin. Iron deficiency anemia (sideropenic anemia) is the most common type of anemia and therefore we'll discuss its possible causes, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment options.

Causes Of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Iron deficiency anemia can appear either because of increased loss of hemoglobin, or because of inadequate iron intake. Loss of hemoglobin is often caused by acute or chronic bleeding. For example, women who have profuse menstrual bleeding usually suffer from iron deficiency anemia, which is spontaneously cured after menopause. Gastrointestinal bleeding due to the overuse of analgesics, peptic ulcers, or cancer can also cause iron deficiency anemia.

Inadequate intake of iron is often seen in vegetarians. Although many vegetables are rich in iron, its form in plants is not ideal for absorption in our small intestine. Meat contains bivalent iron which is far more easy to absorb. However, vegetarians still can reach optimal levels of iron, but if you decide not to eat meat, you need to plan your diet carefully in order to consume all the necessary microelements including iron.

Anorexia and bulimia are other potential causes of an insufficient iron intake. Malabsorption of iron (a decreased ability of the intestine to absorb iron) is also recognized as a problem in some patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as celiac disease and Crohn disease.

Anemia Signs And Symptoms

Symptoms of anemia depend on the severity of the iron deficiency. Fatigue, feeling weak and low energy are the first symptoms of anemia. These symptoms can appear even with mildly decreased iron levels. Moderate iron deficiency comes with concentration problems, headaches, and if it lasts for a long time, even weight loss. Headaches due to anemia can be very severe and they are caused by insufficient oxygenation of brain tissue which highly depends on good oxygen supply. Fainting and breathing difficulties can appear with severe iron deficiency. Signs of iron deficiency include pale skin, coated tongue, and brittle hair and nails. Depression problems are not rare in non-recognized and untreated iron deficiency anemia.

The diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia is very easily made, and it is based on hemoglobin, hematocrit, and iron levels, as well as additional indicators of hemoglobin concentration abnormalities.

Treatment For Anemia

Proper treatment for iron deficiency requires treating the cause. It is necessary to discover any possibility of gastrointestinal bleeding (fecal occult blood test). It is advised to increase intake of well-digestible iron sources, especially meat. For vegetarians, possible options are soybeans, whole grain food, spinach, kale, etc. Iron supplements are recommended for moderate and severe cases.

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