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Iron-deficiency anaemia: signs, symptoms and information
Author: Sr. Erika Botha
Published: 30/08/2019

Anaemia occurs when you have a decreased level of hemoglobin in your red blood cells (RBCs). Hemoglobin is the protein in your RBCs that is responsible for carrying oxygen to your tissues.

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia, and it occurs when your body doesn't have enough of the mineral iron. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin. When there isn't enough iron in your blood stream, the rest of your body can't get the amount of oxygen it needs.

While the condition may be common, many people don't know they have iron deficiency anaemia. It's possible to experience the symptoms for years without ever knowing the cause!

In women of childbearing age, the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia is a loss of iron in the blood due to heavy menstruation or pregnancy. A poor diet or certain intestinal diseases that affect how the body absorbs iron can also cause iron deficiency anaemia.

Doctors normally treat the condition with iron supplements or changes to the diet.



1. Unusual Tiredness

Fatigue is one of the most common signs of iron deficiency. This is due to less oxygen reaching body tissues, depriving them of energy.

2. Paleness

Paleness in general or in specific areas such as the face, lower inner eyelid or nails may be a sign of moderate or severe iron deficiency. This is caused by lower levels of hemoglobin, which gives blood its red color.

3. Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is a symptom of iron deficiency, since low hemoglobin levels mean the body isn't able to transport oxygen to muscles and tissues effectively.

4. Headaches and Dizziness

Headaches and dizziness could be a sign of iron deficiency. The lack of hemoglobin means not enough oxygen reaches the brain, causing its blood vessels to swell and create pressure.

5. Heart Palpitations

In cases of iron deficiency, the heart has to work extra hard to transport oxygen around the body. This can lead to irregular or fast heartbeats and even heart murmurs, an enlarged heart or heart failure.

6. Dry and Damaged Hair and Skin

Because skin and hair receive less oxygen from the blood during iron deficiency, they can become dry and damaged. In more severe cases, this can cause hair loss.

7. Swelling and Soreness of the Tongue and Mouth

A sore, swollen or strangely smooth tongue can be a sign of iron-deficiency anaemia. Cracks on the corners of the mouth can also be a sign.

8. Restless Legs

People with iron-deficiency anaemia have a higher chance of experiencing restless leg syndrome. This is a strong urge to move the legs when at rest.

9. Brittle or Spoon-Shaped Fingernails

Brittle or spoon-shaped nails can be an indicator of more severe iron-deficiency anaemia.

10. Other Potential Signs

Other more generic signs of iron deficiency may include strange food cravings, feeling anxious, cold hands and feet and an increased risk of infections.


Some people have obvious symptoms, while others experience none at all. This often depends on the severity of the anaemia.



If you think you have iron-deficiency anaemia, talk to your doctor, who will likely recommend more iron-rich foods (plus vitamin C to increase your iron absorption) or possibly iron supplements. Luckily, most forms of iron deficiency can be treated fairly easily, usually through an iron-rich diet or iron supplements, if your doctor recommends them.


The Bottom Line: Iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia worldwide.

If you think you have symptoms of iron deficiency, be sure to visit your doctor. Self-diagnosing is not recommended.


For more information about iron-deficiency anaemia, contact us at Campus Health Services (021 808 3496) or pop over to see a nursing sister.