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What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?


Updated May 20, 2011

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Question: What Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?
Answer: Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. Those most affected by iron deficiency anemia include young children, girls who have reached menarche, and women during their reproductive years. About half of all pregnant women experience iron deficiency anemia during their pregnancies. Overall, at least 1 out of 5 girls and women experience iron deficiency anemia at some point during their reproductive years.

Menstrual blood loss is the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia in girls and women. However, excessive blood loss of any kind can also cause iron deficiency anemia. Other causes of iron deficiency anemia include not consuming enough dietary iron and not absorbing the iron from the foods you eat.

See: Are You At Risk Of Developing Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia can range from mild to severe, as can the symptoms of anemia. The key factor that determines whether you experience symptoms of iron deficiency anemia is the degree of iron deficiency anemia that you have. For example, if you have mild iron deficiency anemia, you may not have any symptoms at all. On the other hand, if you have severe iron deficiency anemia, you will likely experience more symptoms, particularly fatigue. In fact, fatigue is the most common symptom experienced in all types of anemia.

See: Symptoms Of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency anemia can also lead to the development of restless legs syndrome (RLS). Women who have RLS frequently spend many long nights dealing with the symptoms of RLS, which make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a good night's sleep. This is because RLS causes extreme discomfort in the legs that is only relieved by moving them.

While the treatment of iron deficiency anemia is relatively easy, not getting treatment can have devastating consequences. If you do not have sufficient levels of iron in your blood, your heart has to work harder to get oxygen to your organs. Eventually, the stress that iron deficiency anemia causes to your heart may lead to heart problems, including a fast or irregular heartbeat, an enlarged heart, chest pain, and ultimately, heart failure. If you are pregnant, the consequences of untreated iron deficiency anemia may lead to premature labor and delivery of low birth weight babies.


NHLBI. What is Iron Deficiency Anemia? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/ida/ida_whatis.html. Accessed 05/06/2011.

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