Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the United States. And women are at greater risk than men. Vegetarians, frequent blood donors and infants and children also are at increased risk for low iron symptoms (see below).
Iron helps make hemoglobin, a protein that helps red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout your body. When you don't have it, your body pays the price.
To help prevent or treat iron deficiency, eat foods like dried fruit, red meat, iron-fortified cereal, beans, eggs, nuts and dark green, leafy vegetables. You should also eat foods high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Munch on vitamin-C rich broccoli, red and green bell peppers, cauliflower, oranges, strawberries, grapefruits, melons and mangoes.
Talk to your health care provider if you're experiencing any of the symptoms below. If you're diagnosed with iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, you may be given iron tablets or intravenous iron to help restore your body's iron levels. Here are some low iron symptoms you should be aware of.
You're out of breath
No matter how deeply you breathe, you feel out of breath if your oxygen levels are low. Without enough iron in the blood, your body becomes starved for oxygen. You get short of breath easily. So, if you're winded doing things you'd normally be able to handle—like walking to the car, climbing a flight of stairs or doing your usual fitness workout—you may be iron deficient. Along these lines, low iron levels can impact your endurance.
You have brittle nails
You have frail and thin fingernails that even a fresh mani-pedi can't cover. Another tip-off is a concave or spoon-shaped depression in your nails.
You feel fatigued
We lead such crazy lives that we may always feel fatigued. But when you're fatigued and weak, irritable, sluggish or can't focus, an iron deficiency may be to blame. The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. You start to feel exhausted when you have fewer blood cells to carry oxygen to important organs and tissues.
Your periods are heavy and long
You lose blood when you have your period. Then you replace some of it. Then you lose it all again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that typical menstrual bleeding lasts four to five days and you lose about two to three tablespoons of blood. But, if you have heavy menstrual bleeding and have to change your tampon or sanitary pad after less than two hours, speak with your gynecologist.
You resemble a ghost
Do you look washed out and sickly lately? Hemoglobin gives your blood its red color and your skin its rosy tone. If your skin seems unusually pale, it can be caused by reduced blood flow and decreased number of red blood cells. Low levels of hemoglobin can drain the color from your skin. Your gums, inside of your lips and inside of your bottom eyelids also may be less red than usual.
You have odd cravings
Suddenly, you have a burning desire to eat some weird and unusual items like dirt, chalk, paper or clay. Pica is when you crave and eat non-food substances that have no nutritional value—and it's a sign of iron deficiency. You may be tempted to munch on these items. But caving to these cravings can cause you to ingest harmful substances and toxins. Fortunately, most women go for ice when these cravings hit.
Your hair is falling out
Your body is in survival mode when it's low on iron. So, it uses its oxygen to support functions that are important, instead of ones like keeping your hair. Don't worry; it's normal to find a few hairs in your drain. It's when you have excessive hair loss and hair isn't growing back that you have a problem.
You have headaches
When you have anemia, you have less blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. So, your body prioritizes getting oxygen to your brain over everything else. Still, your brain gets less oxygen than it should ideally. The National Headache Foundation says that any lowering of oxygen levels reaching the brain can cause swelling of the arteries in the area, triggering headaches.
You have restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most severe at night when you're resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.