Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, red pigment in red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by the lack of iron in the body that leads to insufficient hemoglobin production.
The body daily ”asks” for a small amount of iron to produce new hemoglobin for the replacement of hemoglobin that is lost by the continuous decomposition of red blood cells. In most people, this iron is derived from reserves that are mainly found in the bone marrow, liver and spleen. These reserves are supplemented by iron from food and iron from broken red blood cells. Some people – for a number of reasons that will be mentioned here – have little or no iron reserves in the body, but remain healthy if they balance the lost iron with the iron from the food. If there is no balance, they become anemic.
The lack of iron reserves is due to one or more of the three main reasons. First, there is not enough iron in the food to compensate for the amount that is normally lost on a daily basis (the body may need more iron while growing). This discomfort occurs in early childhood, in pregnant women and in older people.
Secondly, there may be enough iron in the food, but the digestive system can not absorb it. The most common cause of this disorder is the lack of part of the stomach after the surgery. Another cause of impaired absorption of sufficient iron is celiac disease.
Third, iron reserves can be significantly reduced due to large blood loss. This loss can be caused by injury so, in this case, the iron reserves will rapidly accumulate as soon as the blood is replaced. However, strong menstruation in many women can, for several months or years, drain all iron reserves. In many cases, blood loss is not being noticed because of internal bleeding. Common places of internal blood loss are, amongst others, the stomach, where the cause is ulcer or stomach cancer, and intestines. Loss of blood enough to cause anemia may also occur due to hemorrhoids.
Finally, a man can have enough iron reserves, but can not use them because of the long-lasting illness that has exhausted him. Among such diseases are rheumatoid arthritis and chronic kidney disease. In these cases, anemia disappears only by controlling the underlying disease.
Approximately every tenth woman has a mild form of iron deficiency anemia, while 30% are “on the verge” because they virtually do not have iron reserves (this problem is much less common in men). However, only a small percentage of these cases require treatment.
It is very unlikely that someone will die of iron deficiency anemia alone. However, this disease weakens the body’s resistance to the consequences of illness or injury, especially when large amounts of blood are lost.
What to do?
If you have symptoms of anemia, contact your doctor. Do not try to treat it yourself with iron pills, (capsules), tonics or vitamin pills. This can prevent you from setting up a diagnosis of basic illness, which is difficult but can be treated.
The doctor will diagnose anemia by taking the blood samples. If the cause of anemia is unclear, you will need to carry out further tests in the hospital, i.e. further blood tests to measure the amount of iron in blood, examination of a tiny patten of bone marrow (biopsy), examination of the stool for possible internal bleeding and, if there is an internal bleeding, examination for detecting the source of bleeding (with the X-ray of stomach and intestine).
Self-help: although iron deficiency anemia has to be treated by a doctor, you will be able to help yourself by eating food that contain a lot of iron, i.e. meat (especially beef and liver), brown bread, leafy dark green vegetables and dried fruits.
Professional help: anemia can only be cured if the underlying disease is cured. If the treatment involves surgery, you will receive a blood transfusion before so can withstand the surgery.
If it is a severe anemia, whose cause is unexplained or difficult to heal, you will have to go to a hospital where you will receive a blood transfusion or, in some cases, an iron infusion in the vein to fill iron reserves. If the anemia is mild, you will get iron in the form of tablets or injections. Iron tablets are known to cause poor digestion and stomach discomfort, but this should not happen if you do not take these tablets on an empty stomach and do not take more tablets than your doctor has prescribed. In rare cases, when the patient does not really tolerate iron tablets, the iron will eventually be given by injection into the thigh or vein.
Your doctor will advise you to continue taking iron for up to three months to fill iron reserves. If the cause of anemia is poor nutrition, your doctor will advise you on what to eat in the future to prevent anemia. The prognosis for people with sideropenic anemia is generally excellent. In some cases, this type of anemia completely disappears if basic illness is treated and if the patient is properly nourished. In other cases, anemia is controlled by repeated iron tablets treatment (or blood transfusion if the symptoms become severe).