Anemia in women is quite common due to both natural and lifestyle problems. It is estimated that around 70% of women living a modern lifestyle experience anacute iron deficiency. GMOs and mass crop production have made our food deficient in iron. Women in particular are more vulnerable to suffer iron deficiency due to various health reasons such as menstrual blood loss and pregnancy. Following an iron-rich diet and taking iron supplements regularly is essential for women to be energetic and have a healthy daily life.
Symptoms of iron deficiency in women
Feeling tiredall the time is one of the common symptoms of different types of vitamin deficiencies. With iron deficiency, the body finds it difficult to absorb oxygen due to the lack of hemoglobin in the blood. This makes muscles and tissues deficient in oxygen and deprives them of energy. The heart has to pump harder to compensate the lack of oxygen in the organs, which makes it tired and weak. Tiredness in awoman may not be an absolute indicator of iron deficiency but people with iron deficiency commonly experience tiredness and lack of energy in less oxygenated rooms. This results in lesser productivity and difficulty in concentrating at work.
Pale skin and eyelids
Since iron deficiency depletes hemoglobin present in the red blood cells, the blood becomes brighter red or rosy in color, which becomes evident from the outer appearance of the skin. The paleness can appear onvarious parts of the body but it is clearly shown in the gums, face, lips, eyelids, hands and nails. Often doctors flip the eyelids out to examine the deficiency of iron in their patients. In moderate cases, the color on the lower eyelid will appear pale pinkish and in severe cases, it can be yellowish white.
Shortness of breath
When the blood is deficient in hemoglobin, the oxygen level in the body becomes low. The muscles and organs finding it difficult to get sufficient oxygen for synthesizing energy become tired and fatigue. The normal daily activities such as walking and standing for a few minutes feel tiring and breathing becomes rapid. As body feels the decrease in oxygen, it increases the breathing rate to bring in more air inside the body. This causes rapid breathing and shortness of breath.
Headaches and dizziness
Deficiency in iron causes headaches, dizziness and light headedness. Due to lack of enough oxygen, the pressure in the blood vessels in the brain can increase and trigger headaches. These can be frequent, or recurring based on the iron deficiency.
Palpitations in heart
Iron deficiency in the body causes loud and noticeable heartbeats. While the heart struggles to keep up with the demand for oxygen in the body, it starts to pump the blood harder and beats abnormally. If the deficiency is untreated for long, the heart might fail and enlarge. This symptom is less common than others in aniron-deficient woman.
Hair damage and skin
Dryness and damage in the hair and skin are one of the symptoms of iron deficiency. This happens because skin cells on the scalp receive less and less oxygenated blood, become weaker and start drying. Some of the people in the early stages experience greying of hair. In the later stages, hair starts to fall out while combing and brushing, not strands of hair but in clumps.
Soreness and swelling in the mouth and tongue
When closely examined inside the mouth, if you are iron deficient you will notice paleness and swelling of the tongue and mouth’s interior. Lower iron content in the body lowers the myoglobin level. Myoglobin is a protein that keeps the muscles in the tongue and rest of the body intact. Also, it can cause dryness and plague in the mouth.
Shaky and restless legs
Restlessness, unpleasant sensations like itchiness and tingling in feets are primary symptoms of iron deficiency. This symptom is more pronounced during sleep.
Weak, fragile and spoon shaped fingernails
Women with iron deficiency might have spoon-shaped and brittle fingernails. This symptom is less common and is called as koilonychia. The nails often chip and crack at the tips. In severe deficiency cases, the edges of the nails fold in a spoon shape.
Specific food cravings, cold hands and feet, feeling anxious and frequent infections.
Craving to eat chalk, dirt, ice and paper can signal iron deficiency. This happens mostly in children and pregnant women. Moreover, lack of oxygen in the organs and tissues causes feelings of anxiety, coldness in legs and hands, and frequent infections because of weakening theimmune system.
Causes of iron deficiency
The three key factors that lead to iron deficiency are reduced rate of red blood cell production than normal for aprolonged period of time, loss of blood, and high rate of destruction in red blood cells. But there are also other reasons related to lifestyle and habits that can cause iron deficiency.
Loss of blood
Loss of blood because of surgery, menstrual periods, cancer, or any other trauma can cause anemia. The red blood cells can be significantly depleted in the body because of these events and if this is not replenished it can cause a severe iron deficiency.
Stop in the process of red blood cell production
Due to hereditary or acquired conditions such as abnormal hormone level, poor diet, pregnancy, and other chronic diseases count of red blood cells go down than the normal level. These conditions cut down the production of new red blood cells leading to a type of anemia called a plastic anemia.
The regular diet with low folic acid, iron and vitamin B12 can prevent the body from producing red blood cells. Also, nutrients such as riboflavin, vitamin C and copper in small quantities is essential to make red blood cells. Intestines finding it hard to absorb nutrients can also prevent the body from making the necessary amount of red blood cells in the body.
For the making of red blood cells, a hormone called erythropoietin is necessary. This hormone stimulates the action of bone marrow synthesis in the cells. If the body has a low level of this hormone, it can create anemia.
Side effects of medical treatments
Some of the treatments of chronic diseases like cancer and kidney related diseases can make it hard for the body to create enough number of red blood cells. For instance, the cancer treatments like chemotherapy can damage the bone marrow, which is responsible for the formation of red blood cells or depletes the ability of red blood cells to absorb and carry oxygen. When the bone marrow is damaged, the dying red blood cells cannot be replaced.
Anemia can occur during pregnancy due to low levels of iron and folic acid and changes in the blood. The number of red blood cells during the first 7 months of pregnancy decreases in proportion to fluid content in the woman’s blood. This causes anemia by diluting the blood.
Increase in the rate of destruction of red blood cells
The cause for this could be thediseased or enlarged spleen. The spleen is responsible to remove the dead red blood cells in the body. When it is hyperactivated in its function, it can remove more red blood cells and cause anemia.
Diagnostics(tests to be done)
To diagnose anemia, your doctor might take account of your family histories, physically examine you and perform a series of tests and procedures to know the state of your blood. Your doctor will ask you about your past medical records to know the type of illnesses you have encountered. The specific illnesses that could cause anemia will be considered. Also, the diet you follow will be considered to know if you are taking theiron deficient diet. The physical exams typically involve listening to your heart rate to check if there is any irregularity,examine the breathing patterns, and feeling the abdomen to check the size of the spleen and liver. In some cases, thedoctor will do rectal or pelvic exams to check the source of blood loss.
Diagnostic procedures and tests
CBC or Complete blood count
Complete blood count checks the level of hematocrit and hemoglobin. Hematocrit is a measure of thevolume of red blood cells in the total volume of blood. The right level of hematocrit will differ in the ethnic and racial populations. CBC also checks the number of WBC (White blood cells), RBC (Red blood cells) and platelets in the blood. Another measurement that CBC gives is (MCV) mean corpuscular volume, which gives the size of red blood cells. This tells whether RBCs are in good shape or anemic.
Other tests include hemoglobin electrophoresis, reticulocyte, serum ferritin and iron. Hemoglobin electrophoresis examines the different types of hemoglobin in your blood. Reticulocyte gives a measure of newly formed and young red blood cells in the blood. Lastly, the serum ferritin and serum iron give the level of iron in the body.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do’s for iron deficiency
- Consume a diet rich in iron and vitamin B12.
Here are few iron-rich foods
- Blackstrap molasses
- Dark chocolate
- Dried Thyme
- Coconut Milk
- Prune Juice
- Palm Hearts
- Cashews, Pine nuts
- Flax seeds
- Breastfeed your baby for more than six months and delay the feeding cow’s milk. If the baby is bottle fed, use iron-fortified
- Consumeiron friendly food combination Here are a few combinations you can adopt in your diet
- Potatoes with meat
- Tomato, meat and spaghetti
- Brocolli, chicken fajitas, tomatoes and sweet pepper
- Coleslaw and hamburger
- Orange juice and hot dogs
- Raisins and fresh fruit
- Raisins, fruit and iron-fortified cereal
- Cook your food in iron pots. Cooking acidic foods, containing sauces, vinegar, limejuice, red wine and lemon increases thecontent of iron in the mixture.
Don’ts for iron deficiency
- Do not drink coke, coffee and tea. These decrease the absorption of iron in the intestine.
- Do not over engage in sex
- Drink less alcohol especially red wine, which inhibits iron absorption
- Avoid consumption of non-fermented soy. Fermented soy is actually good for iron absorption
Consequences of iron deficiency if neglected
Prolonged iron deficiency can lead to serious complications including thedead. If iron deficiency is untreated, it leads to ventricular hypertrophy and then death by heart failure.
Fatigue and weakness
Feeling of tiredness and weakness regardless of having a good sleep is a sign of vitamin and mineral deficiency. And certainly iron deficiency causes it as cells in the body are deprived of oxygen which makes their functioning lethargic and slow. Even performing low impact activities becomes difficult when having iron deficiency.
Sudden mood swings and poor concentration
Lack of optimal level of iron in the body causes afrequent switch between emotional states. Women might easily become irritated and depressed due to lack of iron. This will result in the decrease of everyday performance and stamina. If you cannot concentrate on your activities and have a negative attitude on your surroundings make sure your body is not deficient in iron. Lack of motivation to progress through the daily activities is also associated with iron deficiency.
When a woman is anemic, skin starts to turn paler and white than usual. This is due to loss of red blood cells and lack of oxygen in the mucosa tissues and dermis. Also, whitish color under the eyes is a sign of anemia.
Dizziness and nausea
The lack of oxygen in the brain cells can cause dizziness and sensation of nausea. Women in closed indoors might experience suffocation and blackouts.
Rapid and irregular heartbeats
Rapid heartbeats while climbing up the steps and exercising may be related to iron deficiency. When the cardiac system is demanded more oxygen due to less absorption in the red blood cells heart has to pump the blood at higher rates to compensate the vacuum. This makes the heart beat rapidly and quickly get tired.
Falling of hair and fragile nails
White marks near the cuticle of nails and thinning of them could be a sign of iron deficiency. Also, since blood reaching the top of the head is less oxygenated, hair follicles start to dry up and loose hair.