Low iron levels, or iron deficiency, occur when your body doesn’t have enough iron. This leads to a condition called anemia. Common symptoms include fatigue, pallor, and breathlessness.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia.
Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen through your blood vessels.
If your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen to be able to work effectively.
Here are 14 signs and symptoms of iron deficiency, starting with the most common. Also, find out how to recognize anemia in children and older adults, and when to see a doctor.
This fatigue happens because your body lacks the iron it needs to make a protein called hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen around your body.
Without enough hemoglobin, less oxygen reaches your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy. Your heart also has to work harder to move more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which can make you tired.
Since tiredness is often considered a part of a busy, modern life, it’s difficult to diagnose an iron deficiency based on this symptom alone.
However, tiredness that occurs with pallor, shortness of breath, and other symptoms may be a sign of anemia.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency. This is due to less oxygen reaching your tissues, depriving them of energy.
The hemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its red color, so low levels caused by iron deficiency make the blood less red. That’s why skin can lose some of its color or warmth in people with iron deficiency.
A 2016 study notes that pallor in the skin or inside the eyelids is a reliable indicator of anemia. A person with severe anemia may also have pallor in the creases of the palms of the hands.
If you pull your lower eyelid down while looking in a mirror, the inside layer should be a vibrant red color. If it’s a very pale pink or yellow, you may have iron deficiency.
In people with darker skin tones, the eyelid may be the only area where this condition is noticeable.
However, pallor can happen for many reasons. Only a blood test can confirm if a person has anemia.
Skin that’s paler than usual in areas like the face, lower inner eyelids, or nails may be a sign of iron deficiency. This paleness is due to low levels of hemoglobin, which gives blood its redness.
Hemoglobin enables your red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body.
As a result, your breathing rate will increase as your body tries to get more oxygen, resulting in shortness of breath.
If you find yourself out of breath when doing daily tasks that you used to find easy, such as walking, climbing stairs, or working out, it may be due to iron deficiency.
Shortness of breath is a symptom of iron deficiency, since low hemoglobin levels stop your body from effectively transporting oxygen to your muscles and tissues.
Although there are many causes of headaches, frequent, recurrent headaches may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Headaches may be a symptom of iron deficiency, although more research is needed on the connection between dopamine dysfunction, estrogen levels, and iron deficiency.
Noticeable heartbeats, or heart palpitations, are another sign of iron deficiency anemia.
Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around your body. In iron deficiency, low hemoglobin levels mean the heart has to work extra hard to carry oxygen.
This may lead to irregular heartbeats or the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally fast.
In cases of iron deficiency, your heart has to work especially hard to transport oxygen. This can worsen conditions that affect heart health.
Iron deficiency lowers the level of hemoglobin in your blood, which
Skin and hair that lack oxygen may become dry and weak.
Hair often falls out during everyday washing and brushing. But, significant hair loss may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Skin and hair may receive less oxygen if you have iron deficiency, leading to dryness or damage. In more severe cases, this may lead to hair loss.
Other possible symptoms around your mouth include:
- dry mouth
- a burning feeling in your mouth
- sore, red cracks at the corners of your mouth
- mouth ulcers
A sore, swollen, or strangely smooth tongue may be a sign of iron deficiency anemia, as are cracks on the corners of your mouth.
This condition involves a strong urge to move your legs while they’re at rest. It may also cause unpleasant crawling or itching sensations in your feet and legs.
It’s usually worse at night and can make it difficult to sleep.
The causes of primary restless leg syndrome are not fully understood. However, it can stem from various medical conditions, including iron deficiency anemia.
Indeed, people with iron deficiency anemia are
People with iron deficiency anemia may have restless legs syndrome, which is a strong urge to move your legs while at rest.
Spoon-shaped fingernails, also called koilonychia, are another symptom of iron deficiency anemia.
Usually, the first sign is brittle nails that chip and crack easily.
In the later stages of iron deficiency, the nails can become spoon-shaped, meaning that the middle of your nail dips and the edges raise to give a rounded appearance like a spoon.
This is a
Brittle or spoon-shaped nails may indicate more severe iron deficiency anemia.
Several other indicators signal that your iron levels may be low. These tend to be less common and may be linked to many conditions other than iron deficiency.
Other signs of iron deficiency anemia include:
- Strange cravings. A hankering for strange foods or non-food items is called pica. A person may crave ice, clay, dirt, chalk, or paper. It can occur during pregnancy and
may bea sign of iron deficiency.
- Feelings of depression. There may
be a linkbetween iron deficiency anemia and depression in adults, includingduring pregnancy.
- Cold hands and feet. Iron deficiency means less oxygen delivery to your hands and feet. Some people may feel the cold more easily in general or
experiencecold hands and feet.
- More frequent infections. Iron is needed for a healthy immune system, and a lack of iron
may increaseyour risk of infections.
- Poor appetite. Iron deficiency is
linked tolow appetite due to changes in the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Children with iron deficiency anemia may:
- have pale skin
- appear irritable or fussy
- lack energy
- tire quickly
- have a rapid heart rate
- have a sore or swollen tongue
- have an enlarged spleen, just below the ribs
- show signs of pica, such as wanting to eat ice
Anemia is common in older adults, but it can be hard to identify, as some of the symptoms are common as people get older.
- difficulty thinking and focusing
- muscle weakness
Compared with younger people, older adults are more likely to have conditions associated with iron deficiency anemia, such as chronic kidney disease, inflammation, and nutritional deficiencies.
Older adults are also
Other signs of iron deficiency include strange cravings, depression, frequent infections, and cold hands and feet. Children and older adults share symptoms, but neurological symptoms, like ADHD, are more common in children.
Talk with a doctor if you have symptoms of iron deficiency. Without treatment, you may develop iron deficiency anemia.
This can increase the risk of complications, such as:
- heart problems
- a higher chance of infections
- pregnancy issues
People who are pregnant or have heavy menstrual periods have the highest risk and should talk with a doctor about being tested for iron deficiency anemia.
If your doctor confirms that you have iron deficiency — typically via a blood test — they will develop a treatment plan that best meets your healthcare needs.
They may recommend increasing your intake of iron via your diet or taking supplements.
However, if the doctor suspects anemia stems from gastrointestinal problems, they may recommend further tests and procedures, including upper and lower endoscopies.
If you think you have iron deficiency anemia, speak with a doctor before changing your diet or deciding on any supplements.
Long-term complications of iron deficiency anemia include depression, pregnancy issues, and heart problems. So talk with your doctor if you’re experiencing any symptoms.
How will I feel if my iron is low?
Some people experience no symptoms with iron deficiency anemia. In time, however, you may notice that the insides of your eyes are paler than usual, and you may feel tired and short of breath.
How can I increase my iron level quickly?
Eating an iron-rich diet can help boost iron levels. If your levels are very low, a doctor may recommend iron supplements. In some cases, you may need treatment for an underlying condition.
What causes iron levels to drop?
Nutritional choices, underlying conditions, bleeding, and the use of certain medications are common causes of low iron levels.
Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can depend on the severity of the anemia. In the early stages, there may be no symptoms.
Common symptoms include fatigue, paleness, shortness of breath, and dry or damaged hair and skin.
If you think you have symptoms of iron deficiency, talk with a doctor. They may recommend dietary changes or medication. They may also do tests to see if an underlying condition needs addressing.
Just one thing
Try this today: If you’re vegetarian but still interested in upping your dietary intake of iron, check out our article on iron-rich plant foods.