Iron Deficiency And Anemia: How To Recognize, Prevent And Overcome Them

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Iron Deficiency And Anemia: How To Recognize, Prevent And Overcome Them
Iron Deficiency And Anemia: How To Recognize, Prevent And Overcome Them

Video: Iron Deficiency And Anemia: How To Recognize, Prevent And Overcome Them

Video: Iron Deficiency And Anemia: How To Recognize, Prevent And Overcome Them
Video: What is iron deficiency? | Hematologic System Diseases | NCLEX-RN | Khan Academy 2023, March

Decreased performance, frequent acute respiratory viral infections, tinnitus, brittle hair and dry skin. Sound familiar? Chances are, you are dealing with an iron deficiency in your body. Nikolai Stuklov, a hematologist, doctor of medical sciences, professor of the Department of Hospital Therapy of the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, tells about the reasons for the appearance of an iron deficiency state, its danger to health, as well as the most effective methods of treatment.

Let's understand the terms

Iron plays an important role in the body - it participates in redox reactions, helps supply organs and tissues with oxygen, is responsible for the production of DNA and the process of hematopoiesis, supports the immune system, ensures the growth of the body and the formation of nerve fibers. We receive our first stores of iron from the mother through the placenta, and then replenish them with food throughout life.

Normally, an adult's body contains 4-5 grams of iron. About 70% of this amount is iron, "built-in" in the hemoglobin of erythrocytes, another 30% is stored in the tissues. This is a kind of reserve, for the formation and "storage" of which the protein ferritin is responsible.

It is mainly found in the liver, bone marrow, muscles and spleen, but there is also a small amount of ferritin in the blood. Moreover, it is the concentration of ferritin in the blood, according to the WHO recommendations, is the main marker of iron stores and is used to diagnose its deficiency.


When iron begins to be insufficient (for example, when its intake from food decreases or due to frequent bleeding), the body begins to replenish it from the tissues. At the same time, ferritin also becomes less. It is noteworthy that tests can show a reduced level of ferritin long before the first symptoms of iron deficiency appear.

Even latent iron deficiency (a condition when hemoglobin indicators are still normal, but iron stores in organs are already depleted) pose a certain danger. In the absence of correct and timely treatment, it can develop into anemia, fraught with rather serious consequences. In childhood, it provokes a slowdown in mental and physical development, and also leads to speech impairment. In pregnant women, it can lead to fetal abnormalities and complications in the mother.

People who adhere to a low-protein diet for a long time (especially vegetarians) face anemia with headaches and a general decrease in performance. In addition, it "opens the way" for other diseases, primarily viral.

According to a study published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2019, the incidence of SARS and cough correlates directly with iron deficiency anemia: patients diagnosed with this condition were 2-5 times more susceptible to lower respiratory tract infections (see also: "5 exercises to help strengthen the lungs").


“Despite the fact that in everyday life anemia is often called iron deficiency, these concepts are not identical. The doctor makes such a diagnosis only if the hemoglobin level in the woman's blood falls to 120 g / l (in pregnant women - up to 110 g / l, in men - up to 130 g / l), and the ferritin concentration - up to 30 μg / l,” - the specialist comments.

Magnitude of the problem

According to the WHO, every second inhabitant of the Earth (in total - more than 3.5 billion people) faces one form or another of iron deficiency today. First of all, the problem is relevant for women of reproductive age, as well as for children. A quarter of them develop anemia.

Causes of anemia

Iron deficiency and anemia can be influenced by many factors. Among them:

  • Imbalance in nutrition: a lack of iron in the body usually occurs with a vegetarian diet, eating monotonous foods high in fats and sugars, chronic malnutrition and starvation;
  • Chronic blood loss of a different nature: nasal, menstrual, gastrointestinal (for example, with ulcers of the stomach and intestines);
  • Iron absorption disorders;
  • Increased need for iron: during pregnancy, lactation and intensive growth, as well as in adolescence, when playing sports;
  • Infectious and inflammatory diseases, especially of a chronic course.

N. I. Stuklov: “All these factors can become catalysts for the development of iron deficiency states, either individually or in combination with each other. As a rule, in real medical practice, the second option is more common, but here you need to make an allowance for statistics. Even with the last stage of iron deficiency - anemia - patients may not have any health complaints, and accordingly, many simply do not see any reason to see a doctor."

Symptoms of anemia

The external manifestations of anemia vary greatly depending on the reasons that have become factors in its development. It is obvious that iron deficiency due to the rapid growth of the body during puberty will be perceived in a completely different way from anemia against the background of cancer. However, a number of common signs of iron deficiency anemia can be distinguished, including:

  • Pallor of the skin;
  • Rapid fatigue - even in cases where the person was not loaded with active physical or mental work;
  • Headaches, dizziness (up to loss of balance), tinnitus, "flies" before the eyes;
  • Loss of appetite (another particular manifestation is a feeling of lack of vitamins and a constant desire to "eat something", including obviously inedible items);

  • Decreased performance and loss of concentration;
  • Muscle weakness;
  • Fainting;
  • Pain in the heart that occurs at rest;
  • Hair and nails become brittle, their condition and appearance deteriorate;
  • Shortness of breath, including with little physical exertion.

What happens if you let anemia take its course?

In general, nothing good. Prolonged oxygen starvation of tissues caused by iron deficiency leads to metabolic disorders, the accumulation of metabolic products and an excessive load on vital organs, mainly the liver and kidneys.

At the same time, sclerotic processes develop - healthy, normally functioning tissues are replaced by "cicatricial" ones, as a result of which the internal organs gradually lose their function. The heart rhythm is disturbed, heart and respiratory failure appears, the function of the excretory system and blood vessels of the brain, genital area suffers.

Diagnosis of iron deficiency

The easiest way to determine if you have an iron deficiency is to have a blood test for ferritin. This step will not be superfluous in the absence of pronounced symptoms of iron deficiency, and if present, it is mandatory. Especially vigilant should be women who complain of heavy periods, weakness and hair loss.

If you find these symptoms, you should contact your therapist or gynecologist as soon as possible. In general, once a year, a clinical blood test is recommended for absolutely all women.

Treating anemia

Anemia is treated with medication - the patient is prescribed drugs with a high content of iron and vitamins. At the same time, a significant increase in hemoglobin and an increase in the level of iron in the blood, in contrast to an improvement in the general condition, will not be rapid - on average, therapy takes about 3-5 months.


It should be noted that doctors categorically do not recommend choosing and taking medications on their own (iron supplements belong to the prescription group).

“Only a doctor can calculate the correct dosage of medicinal iron based on laboratory parameters. Particular care should be taken when it is administered as an injection. Such therapy is permissible only in a hospital (no injections at home!), Only with proven iron deficiency and only with the use of calculated doses,”the specialist says.

Nutrition deserves special attention. Contrary to popular myth, no diet, even the most iron-rich diet, can eliminate anemia on its own. Diet can only act as necessary support - along with medication.

The main proper nutrition in this case is the mandatory inclusion of animal protein in the daily diet in combination with other foods high in iron and trace elements such as copper, manganese, cobalt, nickel and especially vitamin C (see also: " How to choose the right vitamins ? "). For convenience, we have compiled a small summary:

Foods high in iron (> 5 mg / 100 g of product):

  • Pork liver, beef
  • Beef kidney
  • Beef tongue
  • Egg yolk
  • Blueberry
  • Rosehip
  • Dried apples
  • Dried apricots
  • Prunes
  • Halva

Foods with a moderate iron content (1-5 mg / 100 g of product):

  • Lamb, beef, chicken
  • Egg white
  • Groats: oat, wheat, buckwheat
  • Potatoes, cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Apples, apricots

  • Raisins
  • Honey

Foods rich in copper, manganese, cobalt, nickel, vitamin C:

  • Sea and river fish, seafood
  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Legumes
  • Citrus
  • Nuts


Despite the fact that iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia are not considered independent diseases, but "conditions or complications" associated with other problems, they should be taken seriously. We hope that this article will help you to listen to yourself, and in case of suspicion - to consult a doctor in a timely manner.

* The text is based on a speech by a specialist at a webinar organized by the pharmaceutical company EGIS-RUS, as well as an expert's exclusive comments specially for Marie Claire.

About the author:

Nikolay Igorevich Stuklov
Nikolay Igorevich Stuklov

Nikolay Igorevich Stuklov

Photo: Getty Images

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