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Iron Deficiency Anemia: Overview and Symptoms

Anemia is a condition in which too few red blood cells are in circulation. Because red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the organs and cells of the body, a deficiency of red blood cells can be life–threatening.

Iron is a central component of red blood cells, and iron deficiency is the most frequent cause of anemia. It results from inadequate levels of iron in the body, causing decreased production of red blood cells.

The most common cause of iron deficiency is blood loss, usually through excessive menstrual flow or gastrointestinal bleeding. The condition may also be caused by inadequate iron intake, increased iron usage by the body due to rapid growth (as in infancy, adolescence, and pregnancy), poor absorption (e.g., celiac disease or previous stomach surgery, including “stomach stapling” procedures), blood draws, and other instances. Once the body uses up its stores of iron, anemia develops.

Iron deficiency is common in developing countries. In industrialized countries, the prevalence of iron deficiency is lower–roughly 20 percent, in some estimates–due partly to iron fortification of grain products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 7 percent of toddlers, 4 to 5 percent of children, 9 to 16 percent of menstruating females, and 2 percent of pubescent and adult males have iron deficiency.


Common symptoms include: 

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite (especially in children)
  • Pale or bluish discoloration of the skin (in dark–pigmented persons, this may be seen in the eyes or palms)
  • Shortness of breath


Iron Deficiency Anemia: Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment >>