Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia
Looking tired, pale and generally feeling quite exhausted?
If this is your default setting right now and you're not quite sure why, it's possible you might be deficient in iron or be living with anaemia.
The NHS describes anaemia as being the general term for having either fewer red blood cells than normal, or having an abnormally low amount of haemoglobin in each red blood cell.
Haemoglobin is the protein found within red blood cells and carries oxygen around the body.
Since these cells help store and carry oxygen in the blood, if you have fewer than normal, your organs and tissues won't get enough oxygen and your health could start to suffer.
The NHS says there are different types of anaemia: iron deficiency anaemia and vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anaemia, with iron deficiency being the most common.
While many of us might loosely use the word 'anaemia' whenever we feel lethargic or tired, if you’re diagnosed with iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), which occurs when iron levels are insufficient, it can actually be a very serious issue and potentially lead to heart problems, infections, and depression.
What's more, it's actually pretty common.
One in seven women under 50 in the UK, and as many one in 20 older women and men have some degree of iron deficiency anaemia, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognised IDA as the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, with around 30% of the population being impacted.
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Symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia
Actual symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia can include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations) and pale skin.
But there are also some less common signs which include headaches, hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus), food tasting strange, feeling itchy, a sore tongue, hair loss, finding it hard to swallow (dysphagia) and having painful open sores (ulcers) in the corners of your mouth.
Last year it was cited that anaemia was the reason former I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! contestant Olivia Attwood had to leave the television show after just 24 hours in the Australian jungle.
Sharing the news of her departure Attwood explained: “...because of the results the show’s medical team got from my readings, they were not happy to sign me off to come back in, even though I had the clean bill of health from the hospital.
“If I went back into camp, they feared my levels might drop and it could be detrimental to my health and wellbeing.”
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Causes of iron deficiency anaemia
For pregnant people, iron deficiency anaemia is most often caused by a lack of iron in the diet, while heavy periods are also a common cause of this type of anaemia, according to the NHS website.
If left untreated, the condition can make someone more at risk of illness and infection as a lack of iron affects the immune system.
However, it could also increase a person’s risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, and in pregnancy, it can cause a greater risk of complications before and after birth.
For men, and for women whose periods have stopped, bleeding in the stomach and intestines is the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia.
According to the NHS this can be caused by taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, stomach ulcers, inflammation of the bowel or food pipe (oesophagus), piles, cancers of the bowel or stomach – but this is less common.
Any other conditions or actions that cause blood loss could also lead to iron deficiency anaemia.
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Treatment for iron deficiency anaemia
The cause of the anaemia will need to be uncovered first, but if blood tests show low red blood cell count, iron tablets will typically be recommended to replace the iron that's missing from your body.
But there are some steps you can also take yourself, particularly if your diet is partly causing your iron deficiency anaemia.
According to the NHS, the daily recommended iron intake is: 8.7 mg for men over 18, 14.8 mg for women aged 19-50 and 8.7 mg for women over 50.
It is therefore suggested to up your consumption of iron-rich foods and drinks including:
dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
dried fruit like apricots, prunes and raisins
pulses (beans, peas and lentils)
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And eat and drink less:
milk and dairy
foods with high levels of phytic acid, such as wholegrain cereals, which can stop your body absorbing iron from other foods and pills
Large amounts of these foods and drinks make it harder for your body to absorb iron.