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What Is Iron-Deficiency Anemia?

Iron-deficiency anemia is a common, easily treated condition that occurs if you don't have enough iron in your body. Low iron levels usually are due to blood loss, poor diet, or an inability to absorb enough iron from food.

Overview

Iron-deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia. The term "anemia" usually refers to a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen and remove carbon dioxide (a waste product) from your body.

Anemia also can occur if your red blood cells don't contain enough hemoglobin (HEE-muh-glow-bin). Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Iron-deficiency anemia usually develops over time if your body doesn't have enough iron to build healthy red blood cells. Without enough iron, your body starts using the iron it has stored. Soon, the stored iron gets used up.

After the stored iron is gone, your body makes fewer red blood cells. The red blood cells it does make have less hemoglobin than normal.

Iron-deficiency anemia can cause fatigue (tiredness), shortness of breath, chest pain, and other symptoms. Severe iron-deficiency anemia can lead to heart problems, infections, problems with growth and development in children, and other complications.

Infants and young children and women are the two groups at highest risk for iron-deficiency anemia.

Outlook

Doctors usually can successfully treat iron-deficiency anemia. Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Treatments may include dietary changes, medicines, and surgery.

Severe iron-deficiency anemia may require treatment in a hospital, blood transfusions, iron injections, or intravenous iron therapy.

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Living With and Managing Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Iron-Deficiency Anemia Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Iron-Deficiency Anemia, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

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March 26, 2014 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.