Anemia is a low level of healthy red blood cells (RBC). RBCs carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is needed to build healthy RBCs. Lower RBC counts mean the body is not getting enough oxygen.
Red Blood Cells
Iron makes a critical component of red blood cells.
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Factors that play a role include: Iron that is poorly absorbed in the digestive tract—may occur due to intestinal diseases or surgeryChronic bleeding , such as heavy menstrual bleeding or bleeding in the gastrointestinal (GI) tractNot enough iron in the diet—common cause in infants, children, and pregnant women
These factors may increase your chance of developing this condition: Rapid growth cycles—may occur with infancy or adolescenceHeavy menstrual bleeding or chronic blood loss from the GI tractPregnancyBreastfed infants who have not started on solid food after 6 months of ageBabies who are given cow’s milk prior to age 12 monthsAlcohol use disorderDiets that contain insufficient iron—rare in the US
Most people with mild anemia have no symptoms. In those who do have them, anemia may cause: FatiguePale skinFingernail changesWeaknessHeadacheDecreased work capacityHeart palpitationsInfectionCraving to eat things that are not food (called pica), such as ice or clayHair lossShortness of breath during or after physical activity
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:
Treatments may include:
can be taken as a supplement or as part of a multivitamin. Iron comes in many "salt" forms. Ferrous salts are better absorbed than ferric salts. Ferrous sulfate is the cheapest and most commonly used iron salt. Slow-release or coated products may cause less stomach problems. However, they may not be absorbed as well. Some products contain
to improve absorption. Talk to your doctor, though, because your iron level could get too high.
Your doctor may recommend that you feed your baby iron-fortified cereal.
To help reduce your chance of having anemia:
Eat a diet
rich in iron
, such as oysters, meat, poultry, or fish.
Avoid foods that interfere with iron absorption, such as black tea.
Ask your doctor if your infant is getting enough iron. General guidelines include: Starting at 4 months, breastfed infants need an iron supplement until they get enough iron from other sources, like infant cereal or iron-fortified formula.Bottle-fed infants should get a formula that is fortified with iron.
infants need extra iron starting at 1 month of age.
Iron. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated August 2013. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Iron fortification of infant formulas.
US Preventive Services Task Force.
The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Report of the United States Preventive Services Task Force. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2002.
US Preventive Services Task Force.
The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services: Report of the United States Preventive Services Task Force. AHRQ Publication No. 06-0588; Rockville, MD: 2006.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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