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.
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.
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.
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.