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Iron deficiency anemia - Anemia - iron deficiency
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Iron deficiency anemia - Anemia - iron deficiency

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Iron is needed to form hemoglobin. Iron is mostly stored in the body in the hemoglobin. About 30 percent of iron is also stored as ferritin and hemosiderin in the bone marrow, spleen, and liver.

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HEART & BLOOD

Anemia

Causes, incidence, and risk factors   

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. Approximately 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men are iron deficient. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment in the blood. Iron is normally obtained through the food in the diet and by recycling iron from old red blood cells. Without it, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively -- and oxygen is needed for the normal functioning of every cell in the body.

The causes of iron deficiency are too little iron in the diet, poor absorption of iron by the body, and loss of blood (including from heavy menstrual bleeding). It can also be related to lead poisoning in children.

Anemia develops slowly after the normal stores of iron have been depleted in the body and in the bone marrow. Women, in general, have smaller stores of iron than men and have increased loss through menstruation, placing them at higher risk for anemia than men.

In men and postmenopausal women, anemia is usually caused by gastrointestinal blood loss associated with ulcers, the use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS), or certain types of cancer (esophagus, stomach, colon).

High-risk groups include women of child-bearing age who have blood loss through menstruation; pregnant or lactating women who have an increased requirement for iron; infants, children ,and adolescents in rapid growth phases; and people with a poor dietary intake of iron. Risk factors related to blood loss are peptic ulcer disease, long term aspirin use and colon cancer.

Symptoms   

  • Pale skin color (pallor)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Unusual food cravings (called pica)
  • Decreased appetite (especially in children)
  • Headache - frontal
  • Blue tinge to sclerae (whites of eyes)
Note: There may be no symptoms if anemia is mild.

Signs and tests   

  • Low hematocrit and hemoglobin (red blood cell measures)
  • Small red blood cells
  • Low serum ferritin
  • Low serum iron level
  • High iron binding capacity (TIBC) in the blood
  • Blood in stool (visible or microscopic)

 

Anemia, iron deficiency > 1 > 2 > 3 >

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/14/08 06:49 PM