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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Jul 06, 20227 min read

What Is Anemia?

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You’ve probably heard about anemia at some point, but do you know what this term means and what it entails? Anemia is a relatively common condition, and it can be very helpful to learn how to identify its causes and symptoms. Have you ever asked yourself “Do I have iron deficiency anemia?”

Keep reading to learn more about the definition of anemia, and some of the symptoms of low iron levels.

What causes anemia?

According to the Mayo Clinic, anemia is a disease in which your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells (RBC) to carry oxygen to your organs and tissues. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen in your bloodstream to your entire body. If your organs aren’t receiving the oxygen they need to function properly, you can develop symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue and weakness. 

Not all types of anemia are caused by low iron levels; in reality, there are many different causes of anemia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the different mechanisms that can lead to anemia include:

  • When your body can’t make enough hemoglobin
  • When you do make hemoglobin, but it doesn’t work correctly
  • When your body is unable to create enough RBCs
  • When your body destroys RBCs too fast

Your body needs a certain amount of iron to produce hemoglobin, and iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. As Medscape explains, iron deficiency anemia is usually due to having your body’s iron stores drop too low to sustain a normal and healthy RBC production. Different factors can lead to iron deficiency anemia, including:

  • Inadequate dietary iron intake
  • Impaired iron absorption
  • Bleeding
  • Loss of iron through the urine

Risk factors for iron deficiency anemia

Anemia is a common condition, and it has been estimated that approximately 30% of the world’s population is affected by this disease. Although anemia is more common in developing countries and low-income areas, it can affect anyone.

According to the Lindenberg Cancer & Hematology Center, some of the risk factors that can lead to iron deficiency anemia include:

Young age

Infants and young children need more nutrients to develop and grow, including iron. Children who get less than the recommended dietary allowance of iron for their age can develop anemia quickly.

Menstruation

Women who are in their childbearing years and get their period have a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia, especially if they have heavy or prolonged bleeding. Any woman who experiences abnormal periods should seek medical help to find the cause of the issue.

Pregnancy

Nutritional requirements are higher during pregnancy in order to nurture the baby’s development. Pregnant women also have a higher blood volume, which leads to mild physiological anemia of pregnancy — this means that it’s normal for pregnant women to have slightly lower iron levels. Anemia can further develop when pregnant women aren’t meeting their nutritional needs, which often necessitates taking a prenatal vitamin supplement.

Malnourishment

Anyone who doesn’t regularly eat a balanced diet that fulfills their iron requirements has a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia. People who are undernourished can face this risk, but other groups (such as vegetarians or vegans who don’t monitor their iron intake carefully) can also develop physical signs of iron deficiency.

Frequent blood donations

If you donate blood too often, you may not be giving your body enough time to replenish its iron stores. Donating blood is a noble activity, but it can cause certain health risks if you do it too often. You must wait at least 8 weeks between whole blood donations.

Bleeding

Adults who are experiencing bleeding have a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia, especially if it’s chronic bleeding. Certain medications and diseases, such as gastrointestinal ulcers, can lead to bleeding.

Iron deficiency anemia symptoms

Anemia can cause a wide range of symptoms, and different people can exhibit different iron deficiency physical symptoms. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can include:

  • Skin pallor
  • Lack of energy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Sore tongue
  • Pica, or a craving for non-nutritional substances such as dirt
  • Enlarged spleen

How can you tell if you have low iron?

The best way to know if you have iron deficiency anemia is to go to the doctor for testing. Since low iron causes symptoms like fatigue and tiredness, which are very nonspecific, you’ll need to make sure to get a correct diagnosis.

Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and order different blood tests. If you have iron deficiency anemia, you may need additional tests to determine whether you have internal bleeding, such as an endoscopy.

Where do you get iron from?

If you have low iron levels, your doctor may recommend taking an iron supplement. But there are also foods that you can include in your diet to increase your iron intake. According to the NHS, sources of dietary iron include:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Tofu
  • Legumes and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Iron-fortified cereals and bread
  • Eggs
  • Dried fruit

Of course, you should always seek medical attention if you suspect that you’re suffering from iron deficiency anemia. Heavy periods are a possible cause of anemia, but there are many other topics that can be learned about in order to protect your reproductive health. You can learn more about them, including at-home STD testing, at STDWatch.com.

Sources

Anemia - mayoclinic.org

Anemia - my.clevelandclinic.org

Iron Deficiency Anemia - emedicine.medscape.com

7 Risk Factors That Could Lead to Anemia - lindenbergcancer.com

Iron-Deficiency Anemia - hopkinsmedicine.org

Iron deficiency anaemia - nhsinform.scot


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