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Iron deficiency anemia

  • Definition

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells provide oxygen to body tissues. There are many types of anemia. Iron deficiency anemia is a decrease in the number of red cells in the blood caused by too little iron.

    See also: Iron deficiency anemia - children


    Alternative Names

    Anemia - iron deficiency


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Iron deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. About 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men do not have enough iron in their body.

    Iron is a key part of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in the blood. Your body normally gets iron through diet and by recycling iron from old red blood cells. Without iron, the blood cannot carry oxygen effectively. Oxygen is needed for every cell in the body to function normally.

    The causes of iron deficiency are:

    • Blood loss
    • Poor absorption of iron by the body
    • Too little iron in the diet

    It can also be related to lead poisoning in children.

    Anemia develops slowly after the normal iron stores in the body and bone marrow have run out. In general, women have smaller stores of iron than men because they lose more through menstruation. They are at higher risk for anemia than men.

    In men and postmenopausal women, anemia is usually caused by gastrointestinal bleeding due to:

    • Certain types of cancer (esophagus, stomach, colon)
    • Esophageal varices
    • Long-term use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS)
    • Peptic ulcer disease

    Iron deficiency anemia may also be caused by poor absorption of iron in the diet, due to:

    • Celiac disease
    • Crohn's disease
    • Gastric bypass surgery
    • Taking antacids

    Other causes of iron deficiency anemia include:

    • Heavy, long, or frequent menstrual bleeding
    • Not receiving enough iron in the diet (for example, if you are a strict vegetarian)

    Adults at high-risk for anemia include:

    • Those who use aspirin, ibuprofen, or arthritis medicines for a long time
    • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding who have low iron levels
    • Seniors
    • Women of child-bearing age