Anaemia is a condition of reduction in the number of red blood cells in the body, which impairs the capacity of the blood to transport oxygen to the body cells. This reduces overall physical stamina and wellbeing of the individual.
Iron is the core of the hemoglobin molecule necessary for oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. Therefore, it is one of the most important elements of the body. Efficient acquisition, storage, transport and metabolism of iron is necessary to maintain adequate synthesis of blood in the body.
Deficiency of blood in the body due to lack of iron is the most common cause of anemia, world wide , It can be prevented easily.
It is more common in women as compared to men for multiple reasons. Chronic blood loss during menses is the most common cause for iron deficiency. During adolescence, pregnancy, breast feeding and menopause, there is increased demand of iron in the body of any woman. If not met with, women tend to develop iron deficiency anemia. It is not only the women of poor sections of the society but also affluent ones who are prone to develop iron deficiency anemia. Blood loss during delivery is yet another factor which contributes to anemia in women. Greater the number of pregnancies and deliveries, greater is the risk.
In case of men, occult bleeding as in cancers of the stomach or colon can lead to iron deficiency anemia. Drugs like aspirin when taken for long, can cause overt or hidden bleeding somewhere in the body and precipitate iron deficiency anemia.
Worm infestations, particularly hook worm, is a leading cause of iron deficiency anemia in poor people of underdeveloped countries. Schistosomiasis and malaria are some of the other infections causing iron deficiency anemia due to chronic external or internal bleeding.
Liver disorders are also known to cause this kind of anemia, because iron is stored in liver. Long use of alcohol can damage liver and induce iron deficiency anemia also. Other liver disorders also precipitate this condition
Whatever may be the cause for this type of anemia, it usually develops when the condition is of long standing. Iron is stored in bone marrow, liver and spleen in quantities sufficient for the body. It is only after these stores start getting depleted that a person starts suffering from iron deficiency anemia.
Fatigue is the earliest symptom of iron deficiency anemia as in any kind of anemia. The lower portion of eyes becomes pale. But specific to iron deficiency is, cracking at angles of mouth and shiny bald tongue. Gastritis starts due to loss of mucosa, same as in tongue. The individual develops difficulty in swallowing due to formation of web at the throat and esophagus (food pipe). White lines develop over nails and in advanced illness, there is flattening of the nails, which points to iron deficiency state in the body.
Along with fatigue, in severe cases a person may become dull, confused and disoriented. Load put on the heart to supply oxygen to body parts in face of reduced blood can precipitate heart failure. Children with iron deficiency have retarded growth.
Iron deficiency anemia is an illness which can be easily prevented. Intake of food rich in iron helps to maintain iron stores in body. Green vegetables, beet root, pumpkin, poultry products, are useful in this regard. Vitamin C rich fruits like citrus fruits, straw berry, grapes and guava, help in absorption of iron from gut. Children should be encouraged to take these things in place of junk food.
Women are advised to take iron supplements during changing phases of life like puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Iron supplements can cause constipation and bloating making a person stop taking them. But taking them after food helps solve this problem.
If in spite of preventive measures, one develops iron deficiency anemia, the cause should be searched and treated.
Dr Rachna Pande,
Specialist, internal medicine