Living with COPD: Why Iron is Important

Health Professional

Iron in your blood is important to your health, especially if you have COPD. Why? Iron is an essential part of the process of getting oxygen to all parts of your body. You see, your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, and hemoglobin is in the red blood cells. And these red blood cells are the only ones that oxygen cells can jump onto to hitch a ride to travel through your body. If you have COPD or another chronic lung disease and are especially short of breath, one of the many things to consider is if your iron, and your hemoglobin count, is in the normal range.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

If you don't have enough iron in your body, you have Iron Deficiency Anemia.

You might have low iron levels:

  • If you are not getting enough iron in your food.
  • If you have bleeding inside your body. This bleeding may be caused by problems such as ulcer, hemorrhoids, cancer or especially heavy menstrual periods. It can also happen with regular aspirin use. Bleeding inside the body is the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia in men and in women after menopause.
  • If your body is unable to absorb iron effectively. This happens if you have Celiac disease or if you have had part of your stomach or small intestine removed.

What are the symptoms?

Iron deficiency anemia usually develops slowly and the symptoms may be mild so you might not even notice them at first. But you will notice them if your anemia gets worseIn this case you may:

  • Feel weak
  • Get tired more easily
  • Feel dizzy
  • Be grumpy or cranky
  • Have headaches
  • Have very pale skin color
  • Feel more short of breath than usual
  • Have trouble concentrating

How is iron deficiency anemia diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you, ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms and run some blood tests. These tests should include a Complete Blood Count (CBC) to look at your red blood cells and another test to show how much iron is in your blood.

How is it treated?

Your doctor will probably give you iron supplement pills. You may begin to feel better after just a few days of taking iron pills, but this doesn't mean you should stop taking them right away! It's usually necessary to keep taking iron pills for several months to build up the iron in your body. If your doctor finds the exact cause of your anemia, such as a bleeding ulcer, that problem will be treated.

_Note: Make sure you pay attention to the instructions for taking iron pills - some foods can make them more effective and some can make them less iron deficiency anemia be prevented? Yes. You can help prevent anemia by eating foods rich in iron every day. Some of these include red meat, egg yolks, dark leafy greens, whole grains such as iron-fortified cereals, beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans, and liver. While you're at it, if you eat foods high in vitamin C, your body will better absorb the iron. (Make sure you check with your doctor which of these foods are best for you because some of them are high in cholesterol.)

This sounds simple enough. Can I treat myself?

No! If you think you have iron deficiency anemia, don't try to treat yourself by taking iron pills on your own without seeing your doctor first. Taking iron pills without a doctor's direction may cause you to get too much iron in your blood, or even iron poisoning. Remember, your low iron level may be caused by a serious problem such as a bleeding ulcer, colon cancer or something else, which must be directly treated by a doctor. These are problems requiring a different treatment than iron pills or an iron-rich diet.

Can too much iron be dangerous?

Yes. Too much iron can be just as dangerous as not enough iron and over a long period of time can cause damage to the liver.

This is some basic information on iron, oxygen and anemia. Make sure you ask your doctor at your next appointment if you have the right amount of iron in your blood.

_Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of   and the author of Live Your Life With COPD: 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope and** Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning Your Battle Over Shortness of Breath.** _