9 Signs You Might Be Anaemic

Iron deficiency anaemia is usually a minor health problem, but if it is left untreated for long enough, it can turn out to be very serious. As many as 40 per cent of women in the United States are thought to be at risk of iron deficiency anaemia. Over three American million women are believed to be anaemic. The symptoms tend to be very similar to stress, so it can go unnoticed for some time. Would you know the warning signs of being anaemic? Here are 10 ways to tell if you’re anaemic.

1. You're always tired

If you've suddenly started feeling more tired and lacking in energy recently, there's a good chance that you might be lacking in iron. In order for all of the cells in your body to function efficiently, oxygen needs to be able to travel freely around the body. It becomes attached to hemoglobin; the pigment in the red blood cells that makes them red. If you're anemic, you don't have enough haemoglobin in your red blood cells. This causes problems when it comes to the red blood cells trying to transport oxygen around the cells. As there is less oxygen reaching the vital organs and the muscles, this makes you more tired. This is usually only mild fatigue. If you're feeling extreme fatigue, you should seek medical advice from a health professional, as there might be an underlying reason for this, which is more serious than an iron deficiency.

2. Your skin is very pale and you have brittle nails

A pale complexion can be one of the first indications of anaemia. It is caused by the lack of haemoglobin in your red blood cells, and the lack of red blood cells in general. As the numbers of red blood cells moving around your body are restricted, there are not enough of them reaching the surface of the skin. Blood is then diverted away from the skin to supply the vital organs instead, and this is why your skin is so pale if you are anaemic.

However, a pale complexion alone is not necessarily a sign of anaemia, as pale skin can be caused by a number of factors, many of which are unrelated to anaemia. If a pale complexion is accompanied by pale, brittle nails, it is much more likely that you are anaemic. If you are anaemic, your lips are likely to be pale in colour as well.

3. You experience palpitations and noises in your inner ear

Palpitations are irregular heartbeats, and can be one of the early warning signs of anaemia. They tend to occur because your heart has to make up for the lack of oxygen in the blood and must work twice as hard to get oxygen around the rest of the body. Palpitations are often accompanied by a feeling of breathlessness for similar reasons, as red blood cells are vital to the respiratory system, and a lack of them makes breathing more difficult.

Noises in the inner ear (tinnitus) can also be a sign of being anaemic. This usually comes in the form of "ringing" in the ear, but different people can hear different noises. If you are anaemic, there is an increased blood flow in the jugular vein (the large vein in the back of your neck) as a result of your heart having to work harder to pump blood between your heart and your brain. The blood has to pass through your middle ear to do this, and this is why many people who are anaemic complain of noises in the inner ear. The problem usually disappears when your anaemic has been treated.

4. You have heavy periods

If you suffer from heavy periods, it's very likely that you could be anaemic. Women are much more likely than men to become anaemic because of the blood loss every month during menstruation. If your periods are on the heavy side, you're losing a significant amount of blood on a monthly basis, and if this lost iron is not replaced (either through eating foods that are rich in iron, or by taking iron supplements), it can result in you becoming very anaemic. This is especially important if you have had heavy periods for a number of years, as you could have long-term anaemia, which needs to be treated.

5. You've recently been diagnosed with an infection, rheumatoid arthritis or had chemotherapy

You can become anaemic after you've had an infection. Infections can affect the bone marrow, which in turn affects the amount of blood that is produced. When you lose a small amount of blood, the bone marrow can produce more to make up for the blood that has been lost. If the bone marrow is damaged due to an infection, clearly this will not happen, and any blood loss is not necessarily going to be replaced. A debilitating illness such as rheumatoid arthritis can also have the same effect on the bone marrow.

You can also become anaemic if you've had to undergo chemotherapy. As well as attacking cancer cells, chemotherapy also tends to attack other cells in the body, such as red blood cells.

6. You have very little iron in your diet

If you do not eat enough iron, you will not be replacing the iron that you lose during menstruation. Foods that contain iron include leafy green vegetables (especially spinach), fortified breakfast cereals (particularly bran flakes), dried apricots, pulses (lentils and beans), red meat, liver and eggs.

Even if you eat an iron-rich diet, it doesn't necessarily mean that the iron is being absorbed efficiently. Drinking caffeinated drinks in the hour preceding or following your meal can prevent the iron from being absorbed properly. Drinking orange juice just after your meals will help the iron to be absorbed more effectively.

7. Your mouth is dry and sore

Sores in and around the mouth indicate an iron deficiency, so this is a definite sign that you are anaemic. The sores around the mouth will often be painful when you open your mouth, and they tend to indicate a moderate to severe level of anaemia. You might also experience difficulty when trying to swallow.

8. You can feel a burning sensation on your tongue

Feeling a burning sensation on your tongue is one of the unique signs that pinpoint anaemia. It is usually an indication of mid-term or long-term anaemia. A "prickly" feeling on the tongue is another sign that you are anaemic.

9. You have regular headaches

Frequent headaches can be another sign that you are anaemic. It usually indicates that your anaemic is in the early stages, and not an advanced form. Headaches are often the result of a lack of oxygen reaching the brain. When this happens, the arteries in the head start to swell, and it is this that causes the pain.

Anaemia is easily treated by increasing the amount of iron in your diet, or by taking iron tablets if your anaemia is more advanced. Most people can get enough iron from their diet, but if your doctor feels that you need additional iron, they will prescribe this. Too much iron can be poisonous, and as the symptoms of anaemia can be so similar to stress, it's important to be officially diagnosed before you start taking iron supplements on your own initiative.

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Comments 9 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I never knew iron deficiency can cause all that. I better check up because I have a few of the symptoms you described. Thank you for a great hub.


swosugrad09 profile image

swosugrad09 6 years ago from Oklahoma

Very helpful! I have been thinking for some time now that I might be anemic. Thanks for sharing.


jackice 6 years ago

Thank you i have been thinking i have anemic. i will go for achck up. thanks again.


Martin 6 years ago

I just took some Vitamin B-12 and my tired legs are now all good and do not feel that way. I did not take the pills i took it by liquid and it seems to work a lot faster.


Olebile 5 years ago

Am light in complexion, have been diagonosed in 2005 to be anaemic, not been taking the feroglobin for more than a year now because is too expensive for me since medical aid don't cover, been just taking cheap iron supplements. Since last year my complexion has started to go darker, can it be the cause?


beingwell profile image

beingwell 4 years ago from Bangkok

At home, I cook chicken liver once or twice a week to add flavor to my dish. I know it's also rich in iron so I'm hoping my hubby are good with our iron consumption.


Monica 4 years ago

I have had anemia for the past 4 years. I have had 3 blood transfusions, taken iron pills, B12 shots, well everything you can imagine but it doesn't get better. I have heart palpitations, brittle nails, I eat ice like crazy, very strong headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, lightheadedness when I get up from sitting, dry mouth and no concentration. I also have paain around the spleen. I'm so tired of these symptoms. I want to feel normal.


popcorn 2 years ago

Im felling very tired i keep falling sleep . I have been getting head aches and Im finding it very hard to swallow. What does that should like i may have.


karen 23 months ago

This article really helped me with my daughter and anemia. She was getting multiple symptoms and now I know why.

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