Low Iron Symptoms in Women
Low levels of iron is one of the major causes of iron-deficiency anemia in women. It is a condition characterized by insufficient red blood cell count and drop in hemoglobin levels. It may be noted that hemoglobin is a protein present in red blood cells that moves oxygenated blood from the lungs to different areas of the body.
Women are typically more vulnerable to iron deficiency anemia than men. Women in their childbearing years as well as those who are expecting a baby, fall in the high risk group. Low iron in women can be chronic or temporary. It can also result due to the presence of an underlying medical disorder. A majority of cases can be resolved with changes in lifestyle and diet, while some can become serious and life-threatening.
Symptoms of low iron in women
A number of women with low iron levels may not elicit any symptom, particularly when the iron levels are on the borderline or just lower than normal. In other instances, the symptoms may develop slowly and no single sign may cause enough discomfort to merit a visit to the doctor. Low iron in women is generally detected during a routine blood test. Some of the common signs and symptoms of low iron in women are listed below:
- One of the most common symptoms of low iron in women is extreme fatigue. Patients remain exhausted almost throughout the day, without any known underlying cause.
- Pale skin, or skin that has an unnatural color is the most visible symptom of anemia in women.
- Frequent headaches and shortness of breath
- Spells of dizziness
- The hands and feet of patients may be clammy and cold to touch. It remains so most of the time.
- Low iron in women can also result in hair loss. The depleting levels of iron in the body lead to gradual decrease in the density of scalp hair, eventually causing the hair to fall off.
- Affected women may also experience brittle nails, elevated irritability, strange and discomforting sensations of something crawling in the lower limbs, frequent infections, sexual dysfunction, chest pain, heavy periods, and rapid heartbeat.
- Persistent and prolonged instances of iron-deficiency anemia can result in Plummer-Vinson syndrome, which can cause weakness and swallowing difficulties.
- Low iron in women can also trigger the onset of a peculiar eating disorder known as pica. It is identified by the desire to eat non-nutritive substances such as dirt, paper, starch, or clay.
Causes of low iron in women
Low iron in women can be caused due to varied reasons, a few of which are listed below:
- As compared to men, more women typically tend to experience low levels of iron due to loss of blood every month during menstruation.
- Presence of diseases such as colon polyp, peptic ulcer, and hiatal hernia can cause gradual and chronic loss of blood from the body, increasing the risk of low iron in the body.
- Another leading cause of low iron in women is a diet that is deficient or low in iron. It is particularly true for women who are vegans, or those who strictly adhere to a vegetarian diet. Due to such dietary restrictions, they do not get adequate quantities of foods rich in iron.
- Celiac disease and other similar conditions can prevent the body from absorbing enough iron from the consumed food, thereby resulting in low iron levels.
- Intake of certain medicines, such as chemotherapy drugs, can also result in low levels of iron.
- Some women may develop anemia due to genetic causes which prevent the body from making sufficient number of red blood cells or sustaining them. Some of the hereditary diseases linked to low iron in women include thalassemia, sickle cell anemia, congenital B12 mal-absorption syndromes, and Fanconi anemia.
Pregnancy and low iron in women
Iron is needed for the growth and development of the baby and placenta. Pregnant women have almost fifty percent more blood as compared to normal women. Additional production of blood means that pregnant women require extra iron. When this additional need for iron is not met, then it results in anemia.
The chances of developing iron-deficiency anemia are common among pregnant women with the following conditions:
• The ones who experience extreme morning sickness
• Pregnant women, who carry twins
• Women who have had two or more pregnancies in a short span of time
• The ones who do not maintain a healthy, balanced diet
• Women who experience heavy menstruation
Treatment of low iron in women
A doctor will prescribe iron supplements to treat low iron in women. If required, the physician may also check for underlying causes.
Iron supplements: It is taken to replace the iron content in the body. You may be asked to follow the below listed instructions to help improve the body’s chances of absorbing the iron present in the supplements:
- Vitamin C enhances the intake of iron. Hence doctors may suggest consumption of the supplements along with vitamin C tablets or a glass of orange juice.
- Iron tablets should be taken on an empty stomach. However, as iron supplements can cause a stomach upset, you may take it along with meals.
It is not possible to remedy low iron in women overnight. You may need to continue the dosage for many months to offset the lack of iron in the body. The discomforting symptoms of low iron in women will usually alleviate after a week of treatment. Regular checkup of iron in blood is also recommended.
Treatment of underlying causes: If low iron in women does not resolve with iron tablets, then the doctor will check for the presence of an underlying cause, which can be treated in the following ways:
- Peptic ulcers can be treated with antibiotics and other drugs
- Oral contraceptives and other medications can reduce heavy menstruation
- A fibroid, tumor, or bleeding polyp can be removed via surgery
- Severe iron deficiency can be resolved via blood transfusions that quickly replenish hemoglobin and iron levels
Diet changes: Low iron in women can also be corrected by including iron-rich foods in the diet. These include beans, eggs, dried fruits like apricots and raisins, peas, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, pork, red meat, poultry, seafood, and iron-fortified breads, cereals, and pastas. Also include foods rich in vitamin C such as broccoli, kiwi, grapefruit, leafy greens, melons, mangoes, oranges, strawberries, peppers, and tomatoes.