Tackling iron deficiency

Iron deficiency in Women occurs in 5-12 per cent of otherwise healthy pre-menopausal women and is usually due to menstrual loss, increased demands in pregnancy and breast-feeding, or dietary deficiency.

Signs/symptoms
Iron deficiency anemia is characterised by pallor (reduced amount of oxy hemoglobin in skin or mucous membrane), fatigue and weakness.

Because it tends to develop slowly, adaptation occurs and the disease often goes unrecognised for some time. In severe cases, dyspnea (trouble breathing) can occur.

Unusual obsessive food cravings, known as pica, may develop. Pagophagia or Pica for ice is a very specific symptom and may disappear with correction of iron deficiency anemia. Hair loss and lightheadedness can also be associated with iron deficiency anemia.

Other symptoms patients with iron deficiency anemia have reported are:
Constipation, sleepiness, tinnitus, palpitations, seeing bright colours’ fainting or feeling faint, depression, breathlessness, twitching muscles, missed menstrual cycle, tingling, numbness, or burning sensations, heavy menstrual period, sleep apnea [snoring – rare], slow social development, sore or swollen tongue, koilonochia [spoon-shaped nails] or nails that are weak or brittle and poor appetite.

Iron is obtained from foods in our diet. However, only 1 mg of iron is absorbed for every 10 to 20 mg of iron ingested. A person unable to have a balanced iron-rich diet may suffer from some degree of iron-deficiency anemia.

Body changes
An increased iron requirement and increased red blood cell production is required when the body is going through changes such as growth spurts in children and adolescents, or during pregnancy and lactation.

Gastrointestinal tract abnormalities
Malabsorption of iron is common after some forms of gastrointestinal surgeries. Most of the iron taken in by foods is absorbed in the upper small intestine.

Any abnormalities in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract could alter iron absorption and result in iron-deficiency anemia.

Blood loss
Loss of blood can cause a decrease of iron and result in iron-deficiency anemia. Sources of blood loss may include GI bleeding, menstrual bleeding, or injury.

Malaria can also cause anemia and is responsible for much of the endemic anemia in some areas. Other causes of anemia include intestinal infestation such hookworm and schistosomiasis, lower resistance to diseases, HIV/AIDS, other micronutrient deficiencies, and genetic disorders.

Effects
Iron deficiency and anemia cause fatigue, reduced work capacity, and make people more susceptible to infection. Severe anemia places women at higher risk of death during delivery and the period following childbirth. Recent research suggests that even mild anemia puts women at greater risk of death.

Iron deficiency anemia for infants in their earlier stages of development may have significantly greater consequences than it does for adults.

Reason being IDA in infants affects neurological development by decreasing learning ability, altering motor functions, and permanently reducing the number of dopamine receptors and seratonin levels.

IDA in later stages can however be treated with extra iron supplements. Iron deficiency during development can lead to reduced myeline of the spinal cord, as well as a change in myeline composition.

Additionally, iron deficiency anemia has a negative effect on physical growth. Growth hormone secretion is related to serum transferring levels, suggesting a positive correlation between iron-transferrin levels and an increase in height and weight.

Premature babies and adolescents need extra iron for their growth spurts and there may not be enough in their diet.

A diet low in iron is most often the reason behind IDA in infants, toddlers, and teens. Kids who don’t eat enough or eat foods that are poor sources of iron are at risk for developing the condition.

Poverty is a contributing factor to IDA because families living at or below the poverty level may not be getting enough iron-rich foods.

Iron deficiency can also cause the body to absorb more lead, which increases the risk of lead poisoning in kids, especially those living in older homes.

The combination of IDA and lead poisoning can make kids very ill and can put them at risk for learning and behavioural problems.

During infancy and adolescence, the body demands more iron. Kids are at higher risk for IDA through these periods of rapid growth because they may not be getting enough iron in their diet to make up for the increased needs.

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