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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Iron-Deficiency Anemia?

The signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia depend on its severity. Mild to moderate iron-deficiency anemia may have no signs or symptoms.

When signs and symptoms do occur, they can range from mild to severe. Many of the signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia apply to all types of anemia.

Signs and Symptoms of Anemia

The most common symptom of all types of anemia is fatigue (tiredness). Fatigue occurs because your body doesn't have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to its many parts.

Also, the red blood cells your body makes have less hemoglobin than normal. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein in red blood cells. It helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Anemia also can cause shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, coldness in your hands and feet, pale skin, chest pain, weakness, and fatigue (tiredness).

If you don't have enough hemoglobin-carrying red blood cells, your heart has to work harder to move oxygen-rich blood through your body. This can lead to irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs), a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, or even heart failure.

In infants and young children, signs of anemia include poor appetite, slowed growth and development, and behavioral problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency may include brittle nails, swelling or soreness of the tongue, cracks in the sides of the mouth, an enlarged spleen, and frequent infections.

People who have iron-deficiency anemia may have an unusual craving for nonfood items, such as ice, dirt, paint, or starch. This craving is called pica (PI-ka or PE-ka).

Some people who have iron-deficiency anemia develop restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS is a disorder that causes a strong urge to move the legs. This urge to move often occurs with strange and unpleasant feelings in the legs. People who have RLS often have a hard time sleeping.

Iron-deficiency anemia can put children at greater risk for lead poisoning and infections.

Some signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia are related to the condition's causes. For example, a sign of intestinal bleeding is bright red blood in the stools or black, tarry-looking stools.

Very heavy menstrual bleeding, long periods, or other vaginal bleeding may suggest that a woman is at risk for iron-deficiency anemia.

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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.