Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia


Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) occurs when the body lacks the iron it needs to make enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to body tissues. Although there are different types of anemia, IDA is the most common worldwide, affecting more than 1.2 billion people.

People with mild to moderate ADI may not experience symptoms. The most severe cases of iron deficiency cause chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

IDA must be addressed and addressed. If left untreated, it can lead to depression, heart problems, an increased risk of infection, delayed development in children, and pregnancy complications.

Read on to learn about the symptoms and complications of IDA and when to see your doctor.

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Common symptoms

The signs and symptoms of IDA depend on many factors, including its severity, the rate at which the disease progresses, your age, and your health.

Some people with iron deficiency anemia may not experience any symptoms, while others may experience some of the more common symptoms of the condition. These symptoms include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, pale skin, headaches, and cold hands and feet.


Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of IDA. This happens when your body cannot deliver enough oxygen to your cells, causing you to lack energy and feel tired.

The type of fatigue associated with IDA makes people feel lethargic, weak, and unable to concentrate. Although fatigue is a symptom associated with many different conditions, any time you experience severe fatigue that does not go away with adequate rest, you should see your doctor to determine the source.

Difficulty breathing

In most healthy people, excess oxygen reaches the heart, muscles, and organs. However, with anemia, the lungs must make up for all this lack of oxygen, which can lead to breathing problems, especially shortness of breath.

According to the American Lung Association, shortness of breath is described as "a terrifying sensation of not being able to breathe normally" or a feeling of suffocation. Shortness of breath, medically called shortness of breath, can make it difficult for you to breathe deep and deep as if you are not getting enough air into your lungs.

Symptoms that can occur with shortness of breath include:

  • Chest tightness
  • The need to breathe more or much faster.
  • Feeling like your body can't get enough oxygen quickly enough

With anemia, shortness of breath can occur gradually over time or suddenly and unexpectedly. You can even experience it when you are resting or sitting.


Heart palpitations can be described as palpitations, palpitations, or heartbeat. Heart palpitations are usually caused by a medical condition such as anemia. Other causes include stress, medications, and exercise. In rare cases, a fast heartbeat is a sign of heart disease that requires treatment.

With anemia, a fast heartbeat is a sign that your body is trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen. The body circulates blood faster to use the small amount of available hemoglobin . Hemoglobin is an iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all organs and tissues in the body.

A persistently fast heart rate is bad for the heart and the body. Low oxygen levels make the heart work very hard, putting a lot of pressure on the heart and making it beat faster.

Pale skin

Pale skin in people with anemia is the result of a lack of red blood cells and a lack of hemoglobin in the red blood cells. When the number of red blood cells is very low, there are not enough to reach the surface of the skin.

Because the number of red blood cells is so limited, the body compensates for this by directing more blood to vital organs and starving other parts, including the skin. As a result, the skin may appear pale, gray, or ashen.


IDA can cause the brain to receive less oxygen than it needs to function. As a result, the blood vessels in the brain can swell and cause pressure and headaches. These headaches can be accompanied by lightheadedness and dizziness.

IDA can also contribute to migraine , a recurring throbbing headache that usually affects one side of the head and can be accompanied by nausea and vision changes.

A 2019 study examined the relationship between IDA and migraine incidence. Researchers have focused on the relationship between IDA, hemoglobin, blood iron levels, and migraine headaches in women.

The researchers concluded that there is a link between IDA and the incidence of migraines in women and that iron supplementation may be an effective treatment for people with migraines associated with this type of anemia.

Cold hands and feet

Cold hands and feet can mean IDA. This type of anemia causes poor circulation throughout the body due to a lack of red blood cells and a low oxygen content in the body tissues. The lack of oxygen regulates the sensation of heat and cold throughout the body.

Rare symptoms

There are other signs of low iron levels. They are less common and can include tinnitus (ringing in the ears), restless leg syndrome, dry and damaged skin and hair, swelling and pain in the tongue and mouth, spikes (craving and eating non-food items), and nail changes .


Tinnitus can be described as a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound from the inner ear. When someone has anemia, the increased blood flow to the heart makes it work harder, pumping blood between the heart and the brain. To do this, blood will flow through the middle ear, causing buzzing and other sounds.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by an itchy sensation in the legs and feet and an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, especially at night. Some studies have shown that RLS affects up to 40% of people with IDA .

Dry and damaged skin and hair

The presence of dry and damaged skin and hair may indicate IDA. Since iron deficiency reduces hemoglobin in the blood, it can reduce the number of cells that promote hair growth and skin regeneration. Oxygen depletion also makes hair and skin dry and weak.

Swelling and pain of the tongue and mouth.

Your doctor may suspect that you have iron deficiency simply by looking in and around your mouth. IDA can cause swelling, inflammation, and paleness of the tongue. It can also cause dryness or cracking of the skin around the mouth. You may also experience a burning sensation in your mouth or mouth ulcers .


Anemia is associated with a symptom called pica , an intense craving for non-food and non-food items, such as dirt, ice, and paper. Researchers believe that the spike may be a way the body tries to make up for a lack of nutrients, including iron.

Brittle, spoon-shaped nails

A condition called koilonychia, in which the nails become brittle or spoon-shaped, can occur with IDA. Koilonychia affects about 5% of people with IDA.

The first sign of koilonychia is brittle nails that break and crack very easily. As the ADI worsens, the nails begin to be spoon-shaped, with a depression in the middle of the nail and edges that rise and round like a spoon.


For most people, the outlook for IDA is good with proper treatment. But if left untreated, iron deficiency anemia can cause serious complications. Your risk of serious complications from IDA can be reduced by following the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor.

Complications associated with IDA include the following:

Frequent infections

Research has shown that IDA can affect the immune system. This increases the risk of infection in the body.

The types of infections associated with anemia are chronic (long-term) and can include bacterial infections associated with severe sepsis, a life-threatening complication of infection.

Heart problems

IDA can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat. The lack of red blood cells that carry hemoglobin makes the heart work harder to move oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.

When the heart has to work harder, it can lead to many different conditions, including a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, or heart failure. Untreated anemia can also make underlying heart problems worse.

Growth problems in children.

In infants and children, iron deficiency can lead to stunted growth and developmental problems. ADI in childhood can affect the ability to gain weight and can lead to disturbances in behavior, cognition, and psychomotor skills.

Complications of pregnancy

In pregnant women, severe IDA can lead to preterm labor and low-birth-weight babies. Pregnancy complications associated with IDA can be prevented by taking iron supplements as a regular part of prenatal care.


In addition to your physical symptoms, IDA can increase your risk for depression, anxiety , and other mental disorders. A large study published in 2020 in the journal BMC Psychiatry found that people with IDA have a higher incidence and higher risk of anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and psychotic disorders .

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you think you have symptoms of IDA. Diagnosing or treating anemia on your own is a bad idea. Iron overload can be dangerous because too much iron or its toxicity can damage the liver and cause other problems.

If your doctor suspects that you have anemia, tests can be done to check for various properties in your blood.

A blood test may include:

  • Complete blood count (CDC) to assess the size and color of red blood cells: With IDA, the red blood cells are smaller and paler in color.
  • Hematocrit test to check the percentage of blood volume: According to the American Red Cross, the normal hematocrit level for men is 41-51% and the normal level for women is 36-48%.
  • Hemoglobin test to check hemoglobin levels – Low hemoglobin levels indicate anemia. The normal hemoglobin level in grams per deciliter (g / dl) for men is 13.5-17.5 g / dl and for women 12.0-15.5 g / dl.
  • Ferritin levels test to assess the level of this protein in the blood: a low amount of ferritin indicates a low level of stored iron.

Your doctor may order additional tests to determine the underlying cause of your iron deficiency. Additional tests are usually considered if treatment with iron supplements has not worked.


Iron deficiency anemia reduces the ability to supply oxygen to body tissues. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, pale skin, headaches, heart palpitations, and cold hands and feet.

Since untreated iron deficiency anemia can lead to complications, it's best to see your doctor if you suspect you have IDA. Self-medication is not recommended as taking too much iron can lead to iron poisoning.

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