Iron deficiency anaemia: What you need to know

To avoid iron deficiency anaemia, feed on iron foods like, peas, beans, spinach, fruits, and organ meat such as liver. / Net photo

In Rwanda, anaemia is a public health concern, affecting 37 per cent of children from five years and below, 23 per cent of pregnant women, and 19 per cent of reproductive-age women who are not pregnant. World Health Organization (WHO), estimates that a moderate degree of iron-deficiency anaemia affects roughly 610 million people worldwide or 8.8 per cent of the population. It is slightly more common in females (9.9 per cent) than males (7.8 per cent). Up to 15 per cent of children ages one to three years have iron deficiency anaemia. 

According to Private Kamanzi, a dietician at Amazon Wellness Centre in Remera, you get iron deficiency anaemia when your body is low in iron. This is a condition where the body doesn’t have enough blood. When the body doesn’t have enough of the mineral, it results in unusually low levels of red blood cells. When the body lacks enough haemoglobin, the tissues and muscles are unable to get sufficient oxygen to be able to work efficiently, leading to anaemia. 


He says anaemia is very common in children since they are still growing, therefore, they are in need of more blood; also, pregnant women (as they require high blood supply since the foetus is dependent on the same blood), and adolescent girls who menstruate (especially if their nutrition is poor). 


WHO states that anaemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or their oxygen-carrying capacity is insufficient to meet physiologic needs, which vary by age, sex, altitude, smoking, and, pregnancy status.


WHO reports that iron deficiency is thought to be the most common cause of anaemia globally, although other conditions, such as folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin A deficiencies, chronic inflammation, parasitic infections, and inherited disorders can all cause anaemia.

Kamanzi explains that infections like malaria can cause anaemia since plasmodium that causes malaria kills red blood cells. However, feeding on a diet that lacks iron is also a cause of iron deficiency, especially junk and high caloric food.


Dieudonne’ Bukaba, a nutritionist at Avega clinic Remera, notes that if you are usually fatigued,  there are high chances that you could be having iron deficiency, this is because the body requires iron to make haemoglobin that helps to carry oxygen around the body.

Kamanzi says that a person suffering from anaemia may have pale skin, white eyes and finger nails, the breathing becomes hard due to poor blood circulation.

For Bukaba, headaches can also be a symbol of iron deficiency. If someone lacks haemoglobin, it is a sign that the brain doesn’t have enough oxygen, causing its blood vessels to swell and create pressure.

“Since the skin and hair could be receiving less oxygen from the blood during iron deficiency, they can become dry and damaged. In more severe situations, this can cause hair loss,” he says.

Kamanzi states that women with iron deficiency can give birth to stunted children or miscarriage as the fetus could have lacked enough oxygen to grow. Children born can be underweight since they could have lacked enough blood supply.

He further says, if a woman doesn’t have enough blood, they can die while giving birth because they shed much blood, he says.

Fertility rate can decrease in adolescent girls who suffer from iron deficiency as they grow, if they don’t get treatment, children who lack enough blood supply can be stunted. If a person with iron deficiency condition isn’t attended to fast, they can die, Kamanzi carries on.


Bukaba says, if you notice some of the signs mentioned, don’t hesitate to see a doctor for a blood test to confirm whether you have iron-deficiency anemia.

He adds that if you turn out to lack iron, you should increase your diet intake of iron or with iron supplements. However, supplements should only be taken if advised or recommended by the doctor.

Bukaba also notes that if your lack iron, try feeding on iron foods like, peas, beans, greens like spinach, fruits, among others.

He explains that you can avoid certain foods that can constrain iron absorption when eaten in large amounts. These include tea and coffee and foods high in calcium such as dairy products and whole-grain cereals.

The WHO Global Database on anemia can be used to describe the nutritional status of populations and to identify the needs for interventions to prevent and control anemia. It also allows to track trends over the years and to show progress toward the goal of anemia reduction adopted by the World Summit for Children. The indicator used is hemoglobin concentration.

The report on the WHO Global Database on anemia provides estimates of the prevalence of anemia at country, regional and global levels for all population groups (preschool-age children, school-age children, pregnant and non-pregnant women, men, and elderly).

“If the iron deficiency is worse, a person can be advised to do a blood transfusion, but if the situation is not so worrying, nutrition can manage it, for instance; green vegetables like dodo, cassava leaves are a good source of iron.

“Organ meat such as; liver, heart meat is also rich in iron and is mostly advised because it is easily absorbed in blood. Spirulina and pumpkin seeds, amaranths are also ironic,” Kamanzi concludes.

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