Iron deficiency anaemia is a widespread type of anaemia- a condition which is the result of a dip in the number of red blood cells. In particular, this type of anaemia causes a decrease in the number of red blood cells due to iron loss, inadequate dietary consumption or absorption of iron. When an iron deficiency is present, haemoglobin which is that component of the RBC which contains iron and carries oxygen cannot be formed. This in turn impacts the production of red blood cells as a whole, resulting in the onset of iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency is the single most common basis for anaemia across the globe, accounting for roughly 50% of all cases. Anaemia builds up gradually once the iron stores present in the body and bone marrow have been depleted. As a rule, women have lesser stores of iron than men as they lose more iron due to menstruation. Thus they are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia than males.
Amongst children this form of anaemia is linked to lead poisoning. Gastro intestinal bleeding which is linked to some forms of cancer and ulcers is considered to be a root cause. Iron deficiency also arises due to a poor diet or a vegetarian one as well. Poor absorption of iron which culminates in the paucity of iron in the body has been found to be rooted in conditions like Celiac disease, Chron’s disease and gastric bypass surgery. Abnormal menstruation (heavy, long and frequent periods) cause enormous iron loss in women making them susceptible to iron deficiency anaemia.
Iron deficiency anaemia is famously associated with paleness; however the following symptoms are also observed in patients:
- The sclera (white of the eye) assume a bluish tinge
- Nails become exceedingly brittle
- Weakness, headaches and tetchiness are commonly observed
- Pica (an eating disorder) and a loss in appetite is seen, especially in children
- Mouth ulcers
- Irregular menstrual cycles (missing periods, unusually heavy flow)
- Inflammation, infection, or soreness of the tongue
Like majority of other ailments, the treatment of this condition also depends on the cause. In case of the cause being poor dietary intake, eating iron rich foods (eggs, fish, meat, poultry, legumes) and taking iron supplements (ferrous sulphate) are commonly prescribed. The supplements can either be given orally or intravenously. Vitamin C supplements may also be recommended as it is an essential component in augmenting haemoglobin production. Individuals who are at a high risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia (elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, women of child-bearing age) must take iron supplements as their regular diet does not generally provide the sufficient amount. The hematocrit (percentage of blood volume made up of RBCs) is expected to be normal following about 2 months of iron therapy. However, the course should be continued for 6 – 12 months post this to refill the body’s iron stores in the bone marrow.
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