Recognising iron deficiency – Signs & symptoms

By November 18, 2020 Health & Nutrition

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Iron deficiency occurs when your body doesn’t have enough of the mineral iron. Your body needs iron to make haemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen around the body. Iron deficiency and the related symptoms seem to be more common these days. Blame it on the increased dependence on fast foods mostly. Without enough haemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen to be able to work effectively. This leads to a condition called anaemia. In Part 1 of this 2-part article the author shares what symptoms of iron deficiency look like. In Part 2 the article will cover what do if you have iron deficiency. Team RetyrSmart

Recognising iron deficiency – Signs & symptoms

Here are 10 signs and symptoms of iron deficiency, starting with the most common.

  1. Unusual tiredness

Feeling very tired is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency. This symptom is common in people who don’t have enough iron. This fatigue happens because your body lacks the iron it needs to make a protein called haemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen around the body.

Without enough haemoglobin, less oxygen reaches your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy. Your heart also has to work harder to move more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which can make you tired 

  1. Paleness

Pale skin or pale colouring of the inside of the lower eyelids are other common signs of iron deficiency. The haemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its red colour, so low levels during iron deficiency make the blood less red. That’s why skin can lose its healthy colour or warmth in people with iron deficiency.

If you pull your lower eyelid down, the inside layer should be a vibrant red colour. If it is a very pale pink or yellow colour, this may indicate that you have iron deficiency. In people with darker skin tones, this may be the only area it is noticeable.

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  1. Shortness of breath

Haemoglobin enables your red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body.

When haemoglobin levels are low during iron deficiency, oxygen levels will also be low. This means your muscles won’t receive enough oxygen to do normal activities, such as walking. As a result, your breathing rate will increase as your body tries to get more oxygen. This is why shortness of breath is a common symptom

If you find yourself out of breath doing normal, daily tasks that you used to find easy, such as walking, climbing stairs, or working out, iron deficiency could be to blame.

  1. Headaches and dizziness

Iron deficiency may cause headaches, particularly in women. This symptom seems to be less common than others and often occurs with light-headedness or dizziness

The link between iron deficiency and headaches is still unclear.

Headaches may occur because low levels of haemoglobin in red blood cells mean that not enough oxygen reaches the brain. As a result, blood vessels in the brain may swell, causing pressure and headaches. Although there are many causes of headaches, frequent, recurrent headaches and dizziness could be a sign of iron deficiency.

  1. Heart palpitations

Noticeable heartbeats, also known as heart palpitations, can be another symptom of iron deficiency anaemia. The association between iron deficiency, anaemia, and heart problems is still being studied, but it may be related to oxygen supply.

Haemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body. In iron deficiency, low levels of haemoglobin mean the heart has to work extra hard to carry oxygen.

This may lead to irregular heartbeats or the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally fast.

  1. Dry and damaged hair and skin

Dry and damaged skin and hair can be signs of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency lowers the level of haemoglobin in the blood, which may reduce the amount of oxygen available to cells that cause hair growth. When skin and hair are deprived of oxygen, they can become dry and weak.

Iron deficiency is also associated with hair loss, and some research suggests it could be a cause

  1. Swelling and soreness of the tongue and mouth

Sometimes just looking inside or around your mouth can indicate whether you have iron deficiency anaemia. Signs include when your tongue becomes swollen, inflamed, pale, or strangely smooth.

Iron deficiency may also cause other symptoms around your mouth: These include:

  • dry mouth
  • a burning feeling in your mouth
  • sore red cracks at the corners of your mouth
  • mouth ulcers
  1. Restless legs

Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome. Restless leg syndrome is a strong urge to move your legs at rest. It can also cause unpleasant and strange crawling or itchy sensations in your feet and legs. It’s usually worse at night, meaning that you may find it difficult to sleep.

The prevalence of restless leg syndrome is nine times higher in people with iron deficiency compared to the general population.

  1. Brittle or spoon-shaped fingernails

A much less common symptom of iron deficiency is brittle or spoon-shaped fingernails. This condition is called koilonychia.

Usually, the first sign is brittle nails that chip and crack easily. In later stages of iron deficiency, spoon-shaped nails can occur where the middle of the nail dips and the edges are raised to give a rounded appearance like a spoon.

  1. Other potential signs

There are several other signs that your iron could be low. These tend to be less common and can be linked to many conditions other than iron deficiency.

Other signs of iron deficiency anaemia include:

Strange cravings. A hankering for strange foods or non-food items is called “pica.” It usually involves cravings to eat ice, clay, dirt, chalk, or paper and could be a sign of iron deficiency.

Feeling depressed. Iron deficiency anaemia may be associated with depression in adults

Cold hands and feet. Iron deficiency means less oxygen is being delivered to the hands and feet. Some people may feel the cold more easily in general or have cold hands and feet.

More frequent infections. Because iron is needed for a healthy immune system, lack of it may increase your risk for infections.

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