How to Tell If You Have Iron Deficiency Anemia
Fatigue, feeling cold and looking pale may be symptoms of an iron deficiency and anemia. Find out about possible causes and treatments that can restore your iron levels.
You often wake up tired, even after a good night’s sleep. You’re always feeling cold, and reaching for a sweater, regardless of the temperature. If these statements are true, mention it to your doctor. Constant chills and fatigue may mean you are low on iron.
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Causes of an iron deficiency can range from poor diet to a serious illness, says family medicine physician Lili Lustig, DO. Other factors to consider are your age, gender and medical history.
Your body uses iron, a mineral, to make hemoglobin. This helps your blood carry oxygen throughout the body. If you aren’t getting enough iron, this can limit oxygen flow and anemia may develop.
If you show up at the doctor’s office looking pale, especially around the eyes, and complaining of constant chills and exhaustion, your doctor is likely to test for iron deficiency. Other symptoms include bruising, dry skin and a bloated feeling.
There are different types of anemia, but iron deficiency anemia is most common.
Those most at risk include:
Blood tests can identify an iron deficiency, but that’s only part of the evaluation during an office visit. Those with mild symptoms may discover they are anemic during an annual checkup.
“We always listen to what the patient is telling us,” Dr. Lustig says. “A good history and physical are tools that no amount of technology can beat.”
Lab tests then confirm the diagnosis. “I would recommend annual lab screenings so we have a trail to look back on if there is a change,” she says.
Your doctor first will determine what is causing your anemia. Treatment will then focus on both the iron deficiency and the underlying cause. If your diet is the culprit, Dr. Lustig offers several tips for improving your iron intake.
“An especially good source is quinoa — one serving has 5 mg or about 1/3 of your daily needs,” she says.
Other good sources include:
Your doctor also may recommend an iron supplement available without a prescription.
“There are pros and cons for every type of treatment,” Dr. Lustig says. “We take into account the cause and the severity of the anemia. If the severity is life-threatening, we can do a blood transfusion. This, however, is not the answer for everyone.”