Although iron deficiency anaemia (IDA) is the most common nutritional deficiency globally, it’s easy to miss if you don’t know the signs.
You’re anaemic if your level of red blood cells is lower than normal, explains Dr Jon Patricios, a specialist in sports medicine. “The most common cause is inadequate amounts of the mineral iron, and this is called iron-deficiency anaemia. It occurs because iron is required to make a protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is responsible for oxygen transport around the body. Inefficient oxygen delivery results in the symptoms and signs associated with anaemia,” he says.
A deficiency can have serious effects, from delayed physical, mental and social development in children, to ill health and lethargy in adults, and lost earnings through a reduced capacity to work.
In a recent study of iron status in a healthy South African adult population, the prevalence of iron deficiency (ID) was 39,8 % in all participants, and as high as 56,6 % in females. ID occurs when the iron stores in the body are becoming depleted and can lead to anaemia. Yet because the effects of ID and IDA tend to be subtle, it is easy to miss. Watch for these signs:
1 Exhaustion, fatigue and weakness 2 Pale skin 3 Brittle nails 4 Chest pain 5 Irregular or fast heartbeat 6 Shortness of breath 7 Headache, light-headedness, dizziness 8 Cold hands and feet, tingling legs 9 Inflammation or soreness of the tongue 10 Poor appetite or cravings for non-nutritive substances such as dirt or ice
If you experience these, see your healthcare provider, who can confirm anaemia through a thorough medical history and tests, and identify the underlying cause so this can be addressed. Apart from inadequate dietary iron, anaemia can stem from excessive iron loss – “for instance, heavy periods or a gastric bleed,” says Dr Patricios.
Poor iron absorption can be an issue, aggravated by medications such as antacids or foods such as tea, coffee or wine, he says. Dairy products, too, may inhibit absorption. Anaemia can also be caused by iron loss through internal bleeding from parasites such as hookworms in underdeveloped populations, ulcers or infections such as TB and malaria.
“Addressing the underlying cause may include an oral contraceptive pill to lighten menstrual flow, medications to heal peptic ulcers associated with micro-bleeds, or surgery to remove bleeding polyps, fibroids or tumours,” Dr Patricios says.
You will usually be advised to eat iron-rich foods – red meat such as beef and liver, and to a lesser extent, chicken, pork and shellfish, and vegetable sources including beans, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables and fortified cereals and breads. But with today’s busy lifestyles, meals can be rushed or skipped, and you may benefit from an iron supplement.
The usual recommended dose of oral iron for the treatment of IDA in adults is 100 to 200 mg of elemental iron daily.
Press Release, Moon Walk Communications