What Are the Symptoms of Low Iron Deficiency?

What is anemia?

Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. It often occurs with loss of blood or during pregnancy. Your body needs iron to form hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying the oxygen to your red blood cells. Iron is stored in your body as hemoglobin. If your iron is low, you may experience some distinct symptoms and should seek treatment to help you feel better.

Anemia occurs when you don’t have enough red blood cells. Your cells have iron and hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen to all of your organs. If you’re anemic, you may feel cold or tired a lot. This is because your organs are not getting the oxygen that they need. 

There are several types of anemia. Regardless of the cause, they all involve a decrease in the number of red blood cells in your body. Different causes of anemia include:

  • Your body is unable to make enough hemoglobin
  • Your hemoglobin doesn’t work correctly
  • Your body is not making enough red blood cells
  • Your body breaks down red blood cells too rapidly

What causes iron deficiency anemia?

The following can cause iron deficiency anemia:

  • A diet low in iron. You get iron from the things you eat in your diet. If you don’t have an iron-rich diet, you may have some extent of iron deficiency anemia. 
  • Changes in the body. More iron is needed when your body is going through changes. These changes may include pregnancy or growth spurts in adolescents. 
  • Abnormalities in the gut. Some GI surgeries lead to the malabsorption of iron. Most iron from food is metabolized in the upper intestine. Some surgeries and medications affect iron absorption. 
  • Loss of blood. Losing too much blood can cause the amount of iron in your body to decrease. Some types of blood loss could be from a menstrual cycle, bleeding in the gut, or injury. 

What are the symptoms of low iron deficiency?

The following list is of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency:

  • Paleness of the skin
  • Being irritable
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Swollen and sore tongue
  • Fatigue
  • Big spleen
  • Pica, or the desire to eat nonfoods

The reason you get these symptoms is that iron is needed to carry oxygen throughout your body. It’s needed to form hemoglobin to carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide waste from your body. About one-third of iron is stored in the spleen, bone marrow, and liver as hemosiderin and ferritin. Your organs and blood are not getting enough oxygen, so you will feel cold or tired, and your skin can appear too pale.  

Everyone is different, so symptoms could vary. Iron deficiency may mimic other blood disorders or medical problems. Always see your health provider for a proper diagnosis.

Who is at risk of getting iron-deficiency anemia?

Any man, woman, or child can develop anemia. But the following people are more at risk:

  • Women: Monthly menstrual cycles and childbirth involve significant amounts of blood loss that can lead to anemia. Heavy periods due to fibroids can really put you at risk.
  • Infants: Infants can become anemic when they’re weaned off breast milk or formula and start eating real food. Iron from food is not easily metabolized by their bodies. 
  • Kids from age 1 to 2: It’s hard for the body to keep up iron supplies during a growth spurt. 
  • People who take blood thinners: Any medication like aspirin or coumadin that thins the blood can lead to anemia.
  • People over the age of 65: Certain chronic diseases and iron-poor diets in those over 65 can cause iron deficiency anemia. 

What causes anemia? 

There are other causes of anemia besides low iron. They include:

  • Diets low in B12, or improper body absorption of B12
  • Diets low in folic acid, or improper body absorption of folic acid
  • Conditions that break down red blood cells too fast
  • Blood disorders like sickle cell that are inherited 
  • The body’s inability to create red blood cells like in the conditions hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and lupus


Sickle cell disease is named after a farming tool.
See Answer

How do you diagnose low iron deficiency?

Your doctor will usually order a full blood count test. This will allow the doctor to see if your red blood cell count number is normal. The test will also be able to detect other types of anemia like folate and vitamin B12 anemia. 

A physical exam and medical history may cause the doctor to suspect iron deficiency anemia. If the physical reveals paleness, complaints of fatigue, and a fast heartbeat, it is cause for concern. Additional testing may include upper or lower endoscopy, which looks into the GI system to rule out sources of blood loss. A biopsy or bone marrow aspiration may also be ordered. The doctor will take a small amount of fluid from your bone marrow or solid tissue. It usually comes from the hip bone, and it is examined for blood cell properties. These include size, number, maturity, and abnormalities. This test is rarely used.  

How do you treat anemia?

Once the doctor finds out the cause of your anemia (health problem or poor diet), you will be treated for anemia and the cause. Iron deficiency anemia is treated by:

  • Taking iron supplements
  • Eating foods high in iron and eating foods like those with vitamin C to help the body absorb iron
  • Intravenous infusion of iron
  • Red blood cell transfusion

If internal bleeding is causing your anemia, you will need a doctor to stop it with surgery. Surgery has helped cure anemia in those with hiatal hernias and with ulcers.

Can low-iron deficiency be prevented?

Inherited types of anemia cannot be prevented. But you can prevent iron deficiency anemia by eating a balanced diet. This includes eating foods that have plenty of iron and vitamins, along with vitamin C to help with absorption. Studies show that this, along with drinking plenty of water, will help you to keep your hemoglobin levels high. 

Medically Reviewed on 6/6/2022



Cleveland Clinic: “Anemia.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Iron-Deficiency Anemia.”

National Health Services: “Iron deficiency anemia.”

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