Infants and Young Children
Infants and young children need a lot of iron to grow and develop. The iron that full-term infants have stored in their bodies is used up in the first 4 to 6 months of life.
Premature and low-birth-weight babies (weighing less than 5.5 pounds) are at even greater risk for iron-deficiency anemia. These babies don't have as much iron stored in their bodies as larger, full-term infants.
Iron-fortified baby food or iron supplements, when used properly, can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children. Talk with your child's doctor about your child's diet.
Young children who drink a lot of cow's milk may be at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Milk is low in iron, and too much milk may take the place of iron-rich foods in the diet. Too much milk also may prevent children's bodies from absorbing iron from other foods.
Children who have lead in their blood also may be at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Lead can interfere with the body's ability to make hemoglobin. Lead may get into the body from breathing in lead dust, eating lead in paint or soil, or drinking water that contains lead.
Teens are at risk for iron-deficiency anemia if they're underweight or have chronic (ongoing) illnesses. Teenage girls who have heavy periods also are at increased risk for the condition.
Women of childbearing age are at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia because of blood loss during their monthly periods. About 1 in 5 women of childbearing age has iron-deficiency anemia.
Pregnant women also are at higher risk for the condition because they need twice as much iron as usual. The extra iron is needed for increased blood volume and for the fetus' growth.
About half of all pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia. The condition can increase a pregnant woman's risk for a premature or low-birth-weight baby.
Adults Who Have Internal Bleeding
Adults who have internal bleeding, such as intestinal bleeding, can develop iron-deficiency anemia due to blood loss. Certain conditions, such as colon cancer and bleeding ulcers, can cause blood loss. Some medicines, such as aspirin, also can cause internal bleeding.
Other At-Risk Groups
People who get kidney dialysis treatment may develop iron-deficiency anemia. This is because blood is lost during dialysis. Also, the kidneys are no longer able to make enough of a hormone that the body needs to produce red blood cells.
People who have gastric bypass surgery also may develop iron-deficiency anemia. This type of surgery can prevent the body from absorbing enough iron.
Certain eating patterns or habits may put you at higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. This can happen if you:
- Follow a diet that excludes meat and fish, which are the best sources of iron. However, vegetarian diets can provide enough iron if you eat the right foods. For example, good nonmeat sources of iron include iron-fortified breads and cereals, beans, tofu, dried fruits, and spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables.
- Eat poorly because of money, social, health, or other problems.
- Follow a very low-fat diet over a long time. Some higher fat foods, like meat, are the best sources of iron.
- Follow a high-fiber diet. Large amounts of fiber can slow the absorption of iron.
Living With and Managing Iron-Deficiency Anemia05/18/2011
This video—presented by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health—shows how Susan, a full-time worker and student, has coped with having iron-deficiency anemia. Prior to her diagnosis, Susan had symptoms such as tiredness, poor skin tone, dizziness, and depression.
After her doctor diagnosed her with iron-deficiency anemia, Susan got counseling on how to improve her health and well-being. She began taking iron supplements and multivitamins to improve her iron levels. Susan also made changes to her diet, such as focusing more on green leafy vegetables, red meats, nuts, dried fruits, and beans. Other lifestyle changes, such as getting enough sleep and exercising, also have helped Susan feel better.
To further improve her condition, Susan had a minor surgical procedure to stop her monthly periods. By following her treatment plan and making smart lifestyle choices, Susan continues to feel better and see the benefits of treatment.
For more information about living with and managing iron-deficiency anemia, go to the Health Topics Iron-Deficiency Anemia article.