Iron deficiency, or iron deficiency anaemia, is important to recognise because left untreated, serious health problems can occur. It can make you more at risk of illness and infection, can increase the risk of complications with the heart or lungs, and can also increase the risk of complications in pregnancy. Iron is considered a vital mineral as it plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. There are four symptoms of iron deficiency to be wary of, according to the NHS.
These symptoms are:
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Shortness of breath
- Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Pale skin
Alongside these main symptoms are some less common ones (usually not connected to pregnancy).
- Hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus)
- Food tasting strange
- Feeling itchy
- A sore tongue
- Hair loss – you notice more hair coming out when brushing or washing it
- Wanting to eat non-food items (for example, paper or ice) – called pica
- Finding it hard to swallow (dysphagia)
- Painful open sores (ulcers) in the corners of your mouth
- Spoon-shaped nails
- Restess legs syndrome
If you experience any of these symptoms you should see your GP, who can confirm if you have the condition with a simple blood test.
Depending on the cause of your iron deficiency, your GP will recommend the best treatment.
You may be prescribed iron supplements or tablets to replace the iron that’s missing from your body.
Your GP will then follow your progress over a few months.
If your diet is to blame for your iron deficiency, your GP will recommend what foods you should eat more of.
The NHS also lists which foods to eat more of, as well as which foods to eat less of.
Iron-rich foods include:
- Dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
- Cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
- Pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
Foods to eat and drink less of include:
- Milk and dairy
- Foods with high levels of phytic acid – such as whole grain cereals, as these can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and pills
Another vitamin deficiency linked to diet is vitamin B12 deficiency.