Anemia occurs when your body has too few red blood cells. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of the condition.
At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), our team of experts provides comprehensive diagnostic and medical care for people with many types of anemia, including this type.
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What is iron-deficiency anemia?
Iron-deficiency anemia happens if your body loses more iron than normal or you’re not getting enough iron through your diet. Your body can lose iron if:
- You’re bleeding — even if the blood loss is slow and you’re not aware of it.
- Your body has trouble absorbing iron because of an intestinal surgery you’ve had or because of another condition, such as celiac disease.
Some diets, such as vegetarian diets, may be low in iron and lead to iron deficiency if followed strictly over many years.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color. Hemoglobin enables the blood cells to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. When your iron level is low, this process is impaired, and your tissues don’t get as much oxygen as they need.
Symptoms and diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia
When your blood cannot deliver enough oxygen throughout your body, you may feel weak, dizzy or short of breath with activities that would normally not be challenging for you, such as walking up stairs.
In iron-deficiency anemia specifically, people often notice unusual symptoms, most commonly craving for ice chips, burning in the mouth, hair loss or restless leg syndrome.
If your anemia is mild or develops slowly over a long period, you might not notice any symptoms at all.
SCCA offers a full array of services to diagnose anemia and determine the cause.
Your doctor will ask about your medical history and examine you. They can diagnose low iron with simple blood tests, including a complete blood count with blood smear and iron studies (iron, iron binding capacity, transferrin saturation and ferritin). A bone marrow biopsy can help doctors assess your iron stores, but this is rarely needed to diagnose iron deficiency.
If you’re low on iron, your doctor will look further to determine the cause. You may need more blood tests or gastrointestinal procedures, such as an endoscopy or colonoscopy, to check for internal bleeding from an ulcer, polyp or other condition.
Iron-deficiency anemia treatment
To rebuild your body’s iron stores, you’ll need iron supplements in pill form. There’s also an option to get supplemental iron through an intravenous (IV) line, if you cannot absorb enough iron from pills.
If your doctor finds a cause for your iron deficiency, such as bleeding, you’ll need treatment to correct that as well. SCCA’s team of doctors provides a full range of treatment options for anemia and the conditions that may lead to it.