Iron deficiency symptoms: The four signs your iron levels are low – when to see a doctor
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Taking vitamins every day is a good habit to get into, however many of us could be deficient in key vitamins and not even realise it. You may have been putting your tiredness down to lockdown fatigue, but you could actually be iron deficient.
Iron is a mineral that the body needs for growth and development.
Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin, which is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body.
Heavy periods, pregnancy or blood loss can cause iron levels to become low.
Low iron levels or iron deficiency can lead to a range of symptoms, which may be ignored or put down to other factors.
Iron deficiency anaemia symptoms
The NHS says the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia are:
- tiredness and lack of energy
- shortness of breath
- noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- pale skin
You may also notice brittle nails, cold hands and feet and sore tongue.
Iron deficiency is treated with iron tablets prescribed by a GP and by eating iron-rich foods.
If you think you have an iron deficiency you should contact your doctor and arrange an appointment.
Your GP will usually order a full blood count test which will find out if the number of red blood cells you have (your red blood cell count) is normal.
You do not need to do anything to prepare for this test.
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Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia, however, there are other types, like vitamin B12 and folate anaemia, that the blood test will also check for.
If you have iron deficiency anaemia you may be prescribed iron tablets and told to increase iron in your diet.
Foods high in iron include
- Red Meat
- Beans – red kidney beans, edamame bean, chickpeas
- Dried fruit
- Fortified breakfast cereals
Tofu, green leafy vegetables like spinach, baked potatoes and lentils are also good sources of iron.
Prescribed iron tablets are stronger than the supplements you can buy in pharmacies and supermarkets.
Depending on what your doctor says, you may need to take them for about six months.
One tip the NHS gives is that drinking orange juice after you’ve taken a tablet may help your body absorb the iron.
Some people get side effects when taking iron tablets like:
- constipation or diarrhoea
- tummy pain
- feeling sick
- black poo
Try taking the tablets with or soon after food to reduce the chance of side effects.
Even if you get these side effects it is important to keep taking the tablets.
Your GP may carry out repeat blood tests over the next few months to check that your iron level is getting back to normal.
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