Feeling tired or experiencing more headaches than normal? You might put it down to a poor night's sleep, but you could be overlooking the signs of an iron deficiency
Iron deficiency anaemia is when the body can’t produce enough red blood cells, which carry oxygen, due to the lack of iron. It’s a very common condition, often going unnoticed by many because the early symptoms are so mild.
So, what are the signs of an iron deficiency?
1. Feeling more tired than normal
You might put tiredness down to a late night or poor night’s sleep, but if you are feeling extremely tired, and it persists, it could be a sign you’re lacking in iron. As iron deficiency means there are fewer red blood cells to carry oxygen, our muscles are denied energy, which makes us more lethargic.
2. Pale skin
Haemoglobin (the protein in our blood cells) is what gives our blood its red colour. When there is a lack of iron, it typically leads to paleness of the skin. Keep an eye out, particularly, for the loss of colour around the eyelids, gums and nails.
3. Shortness of breath
As our muscles don’t receive oxygen, we will increase our breathing rate to compensate. This is more noticeable with tasks that wouldn't normally see you short of breath.
4. Noticeable heartbeat
Heart palpitations are more noticeable in people with iron deficiency anaemia. Due to the lack of red blood cells carrying oxygen around the body, the heart has to work even harder to pump as much oxygen as possible. This might also lead to abnormal or irregular beating and heart murmurs in cases where iron deficiency is prolonged.
5. Feeling more anxious
A lack of oxygen as a result of low iron can heighten our senses and cause feelings of panic and anxiety. This is particularly noticeable in people that may not usually be anxious, but it can be easily resolved by increasing iron intake.
How to increase iron levels
If you suspect you might have an iron deficiency, no matter how mild, it’s important you take the steps to address it before it could get worse.
Talk to your GP
Your doctor will likely arrange for a blood test to check your iron levels. From here, they can assess the severity and recommend ways to bring your haemoglobin levels back up to normal.
It's important to speak to a healthcare professional, as they will be able to check whether there are any underlying causes of your low iron levels, such as heavy periods, or whether your low iron has contributed to anything else that you might be unaware of. Your blood test will also check for other types of anaemia, such as vitamin B12 deficiency and folate anaemia. It’s helpful to understand that iron deficiency is the most common type of anaemia, so you’re not alone and it can be easily addressed.
Change your diet
You might be able to bring your iron levels up naturally, by increasing your intake of iron-rich foods, such as spinach, kale, eggs, red meat, brown rice, and tofu. You should also ensure you are getting sufficient levels of vitamin C, as this is needed to absorb the iron more easily so it can work effectively. Most importantly, make sure you’re getting a balanced diet.
There are several iron supplements available from pharmacists and some supermarkets that your doctor may recommend you take in cases where iron levels can’t be rectified with diet alone, normally for about six months. It’s recommended to take them with orange juice to help absorb the iron, though you should be aware that iron supplements can have some side effects, such as an upset stomach, heartburn, tummy pain, and nausea.
If you need support with an iron deficiency, you can find a nutrition professional on Nutritionist Resource.