Not having enough iron in your body causes iron-deficiency anemia. Lack of iron usually is due to blood loss, poor diet, or an inability to absorb enough iron from food.
When you lose blood, you lose iron. If you don't have enough iron stored in your body to make up for the lost iron, you'll develop iron-deficiency anemia.
In women, long or heavy menstrual periods or bleeding fibroids in the uterus may cause low iron levels. Blood loss that occurs during childbirth is another cause of low iron levels in women.
Internal bleeding (bleeding inside the body) also may lead to iron-deficiency anemia. This type of blood loss isn't always obvious, and it may occur slowly. Some causes of internal bleeding are:
- A bleeding ulcer, colon polyp, or colon cancer
- Regular use of aspirin or other pain medicines, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (for example, ibuprofen and naproxen)
- Urinary tract bleeding
Blood loss from severe injuries, surgery, or frequent blood drawings also can cause iron-deficiency anemia.
The best sources of iron are meat, poultry, fish, and iron-fortified foods (foods that have iron added). If you don't eat these foods regularly, or if you don't take an iron supplement, you're more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia.
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.
During some stages of life, such as pregnancy and childhood, it may be hard to get enough iron in your diet. This is because your need for iron increases during these times of growth and development.
Inability To Absorb Enough Iron
Even if you have enough iron in your diet, your body may not be able to absorb it. This can happen if you have intestinal surgery (such as gastric bypass) or a disease of the intestine (such as Crohn's disease or celiac disease).
Prescription medicines that reduce acid in the stomach also can interfere with iron absorption.
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.