Iron Deficiency Anemia: Causes and Patient Education

Iron Deficiency Anemia

The common type of anemia includes iron deficiency anemia, in which the body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells.

Throughout the body, oxygen is distributed through red blood cells.

As the name suggests, iron deficiency anemia is caused by a lack of iron in the body.

Insufficient iron prevents the body from manufacturing a component in red blood cells necessary for oxygen transport (hemoglobin).

Signs and Symptoms

At first, iron deficiency anemia may not present any noticeable symptoms. However, as iron deficiency and subsequent anemia progress, the symptoms become more severe.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Chest pain, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath
  • Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
  • Brittle nails
  • Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
  • Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, or starch

Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia

Blood Loss

Iron deficiency is most commonly brought on by excessive blood loss.

Chronic occult bleeding, most commonly from the digestive system owing to peptic ulcer disease, malignancy, hemorrhoids, or vascular ectasias, is the most common cause in males and postmenopausal women.

Menstrual blood loss in premenopausal women (average, 0.5 mg iron/day) is a frequent cause.

Infection with hookworm is a prevalent cause of intestinal bleeding in third-world nations.

When the quantity of iron released during hemolysis exceeds the plasma haptoglobin-binding capacity, other less common causes include urinary blood loss, recurrent pulmonary hemorrhage, and chronic intravascular or traumatic (exercise-induced) hemolysis.

A Lack of Iron in Your Diet

Iron deficiency anemia results from a chronic lack of iron in the diet, leading to fatigue, weakness, and fatigue.

Iron-rich foods include lean meats, eggs, and some dark green vegetables.

Iron is especially important during these times of fast growth and development.

Thus, a diet rich in iron may be especially important for pregnant women and young children.

An Inability to Absorb Iron

Gastrectomy and malabsorption disorders such as celiac disease, atrophic gastritis, Helicobacter pylori infection, achlorhydria, short bowel syndrome, and occasionally IRIDA may all lead to decreased iron absorption (iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia).

Malnutrition leads to a reduction in absorption, albeit only very rarely.

Prevention of Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Treat the cause of iron deficiency anemias, such as bleeding, and digestive issues, such as malabsorption.
  • Consume iron-rich meals. Lean beef, poultry, dark leafy greens, and beans are all excellent iron sources.
  • The body can absorb iron better if you eat and drink foods rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, strawberries, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables.
  • Make wise dietary selections. Dietary iron and vitamin B12 requirements may often be met by consuming various healthful, well-balanced meals.
  • Coffee and tea should not be consumed while eating. Iron absorption is decreased while consuming certain beverages.

Dietary Sources/Iron Absorption

  • Foods rich in iron include Red meat, pork and poultry, seafood, beans, and dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach.
  • Others are dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots Iron-fortified cereals, bread and pastas, and peas.
  • Foods that increase iron absorption are mainly Vitamin C-containing foods such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and mangoes, among others.

How to Take Iron Supplements

  • Iron is best absorbed at least an hour before or two hours after a meal, on an empty stomach, with water or fruit juice (full glass or 8 ounces for adults; half glass or 4 ounces for children).
  • Iron can be safely taken with food or right after eating to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Take iron supplements upon awakening before eating anything.

Client Education on Iron Deficiency Anemia

  • Low levels of red blood cells transport oxygen across the body, indicating anemia.
  • One of the most prevalent causes is an insufficient amount of iron.
  • Hemoglobin, a protein found in RBCs, is responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body (Mazur et al., 2019).
  • Fewer and smaller red blood cells are produced when there is insufficient iron in the diet.
  • Restlessness and lightheadedness are the most frequent classical symptoms.
  • Extreme blood loss is the leading cause of anemia. Anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, may increase some individuals’ bleeding risk.
  • The patient may bleed heavily because of their menstrual cycle or another health condition, such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, or cancer.
  • Low iron intake is another cause of anemia, and it’s especially dangerous when your body needs more iron, including during pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence.
  • Take the pills either one hour before or after a meal. Iron should be taken with meals to lessen the likelihood of stomach upset. Vitamin C aids with iron absorption (from food or supplements).
  • When taking iron supplements, it’s best to have them with a glass of orange juice or a dish of vitamin C-rich food, such as citrus fruits.
  • Wait 2 hours before or after drinking milk or caffeine-containing beverages when taking iron (such as coffee, tea, or cola). They may reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron.
  • Iron supplements are associated with various gastrointestinal side effects, such as indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or cramping.
  • Water and fiber-rich meals, such as fruits and vegetables, should be consumed regularly. Do not leave iron supplements out where children can easily get to them. Overdosing on iron can be fatal.
  • If you forget to take your iron pill at your regular time, don’t take a double dose the next time you take your pill. A change in stool color from brown to green after taking iron supplements is possible.


Burz, C., Cismaru, A., Pop, V., & Bojan, A. (2019). Iron-deficiency anemia. Iron Deficiency Anemia. Web.

Mazur, E. E., Litch, N. A., & Lutz, C. A. (2019). Lutz’s nutrition and diet therapy. F. A. Davis.

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