What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can include feeling weak, tired and/or irritable, having problems concentrating or being unable to handle hard exercise sessions very well.  Because iron is essential for the formation and use of hemoglobin, a protein that delivers oxygen throughout the body, and myoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen to muscles, low levels of iron lead to fatigue.

Iron deficiency actually occurs in three stages that get worse as iron levels plummet: depletion, marginal deficiency and anemia.

The following groups have an increased risk of developing iron deficiency anemia:
  • women
  • teenage girls
  • distance runners
  • vegetarian athletes
  • female athletes
  • those who lose a significant amount of blood during their menstrual cycle
  • people who take excessive amounts of antacids
  • people with certain digestive diseases such as celiac disease 
If you are anemic, you may find yourself having a tough time getting enough air when you exercise, while your muscles may feel like dead weight. Correcting iron deficiency anemia will reduce muscle fatigue and improve endurance.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can include fatigue, tiredness, weakness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, poor endurance, chest pain, cold hands and feet, pale skin and unusual cravings for substances such as ice or dirt. The severity of the symptoms usually increases as the anemia worsens. Older patients can also experience restless leg syndrome or an uncomfortable tingling sensation in the legs. Children can have decreased appetites and poor food intake.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Are you often so tired that you feel as if you've been hit by a ton of bricks? While it's normal to feel overtired now and then, a constant state of fatigue could signal an underlying medical problem. In fact, you could be suffering from lack of iron, the number one nutritional deficiency in the world.

To determine if your fatigue is caused by an iron deficiency, check yourself for these other five major warning signs:
  • You feel fatigued for over a month.
  • You always feel cold.
  • Your skin looks paler than usual.
  • You just can't focus.
  • You have substantial hair loss and brittle nails.
If you have one or more of the symptoms listed above, your fatigue may be due to low iron levels. See your doctor and ask for a ferritin-level test.
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If you suspect you have anemia, you should see your health care provider who will do a physical exam as well as blood tests to make a diagnosis, and treat the condition if you do have anemia. Some symptoms your doctor may ask you about include: Blue-tinged or very pale whites of eyes; Brittle nails; Decreased appetite; Fatigue; Headache; Irritability; Pale skin color; Shortness of breath; Sore tongue; Unusual food cravings (called pica); Weakness & fatigue which usually gets worse when you do something physical. These symptoms may (or may not) be related to iron or anemia, so if you suspect you are anemic, or have some of these symptoms, make sure to see your health care provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.