BENGALURU: Iron deficiency that results in anaemia has been a major public health burden in India. The incidence of anaemia is as much as 53.2 per cent among women and 21.7 per cent among men. Iron deficiency occurs when the body lacks adequate iron, which is essential to make haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells enabling them to transfer oxygen around the body. Without enough haemoglobin, the body’s tissues and muscles do not get adequate oxygen and compromises with their functioning. This is when one becomes anaemic.
What causes iron deficiency?
The reasons are many: nutritional deficiency and consumption of food low in iron, inflammatory bowel disease, increased iron requirements during pregnancy and blood loss through heavy periods or internal bleeding. The deficiency can present itself with varied symptoms. In certain cases, it could be asymptomatic.
Identifying iron deficiency
Unusual tiredness: In case one suffers from unusual fatigue, or feeling tired with breathlessness, they should get their hemoglobin checked. Excessive or chronic blood loss secondary to heavy menstrual blood flow, bleeding hemorrhoids or any other cause for slow chronic blood loss leads to anaemia. With inadequate haemoglobin production, body tissues and muscles get less oxygen and are energy deprived. The heart has to pump harder to provide oxygen to organs and tissues, which leads to fatigue.
Looking pale: Hemoglobin is responsible for the pink healthy look. Visible areas like the skin, the tongue, the inner surface of the eyelids, the nails and other visible areas appear pale to papery white.
Shortness of breath: This is otherwise called effort intolerance. When the demand for oxygen increases as during walking, climbing stairs or any mild forms of exercise, the heart rate and the force of contraction increase, making one experience fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, etc.
Headaches: Lack of haemoglobin may also result in inadequate oxygen reaching the brain, leading to widening of the blood vessels and increases blood pressure. This causes a headache and one may feel dizzy.
Palpitation or heart racing: In cases of iron deficiency, the heart has to work extra hard to carry oxygen around the body. This may result in irregular or fast heartbeat and even heart murmurs, an enlarged heart, or heart failure. Dry and damaged hair and skin: In severe cases, it may also lead to hair loss. Keep an eye on your skin and hair health to identify iron deficiency at the right time. Other signs: Strange cravings for food, a feeling of depression, cold hands and feet, and more
(The author is the director, Internal Medicine, Sakra World Hospital)