Iron deficiency is a major health problem for many people around the world. Iron is very important because it transports oxygen around our body and helps everything function well. A lack of iron can lead to many health problems, and anemia is one of the big ones. Anemia occurs when our body does not have enough special oxygen cells.
Iron deficiency occurs in three stages, like the stages of a journey. This journey can be made faster or slower depending on how much iron we have in our bodies and how much iron we lose. We need to understand these three stages, the signs that indicate iron deficiency, how doctors determine iron levels, and why it’s so important to know about iron levels. This way, we can do what we can to keep our bodies healthy.
How much iron does the body normally contain?
according to NIH (National Institutes of Health), There are approximately 2 grams of red blood cells (RBCs) in our bodies, which is equivalent to 2000 mL. Iron-containing proteins such as myoglobin, cytochromes, and catalase add up to about 500 mg. Iron in our blood is bound to something called transferrin. Transferrin is like its storage form and its amount ranges from 3 to 7 mg.
There is also a form of iron storage called ferritin or hemosiderin that stores iron for later use. Men have about 0.8-1 grams of this, and women about 0.4-0.5 grams. Most of this stored iron is located in certain parts of the body, such as the liver, spleen, and bone marrow.
When our body doesn’t have enough iron, it goes through various stages. Initially, it uses up some of your iron stores but does not cause anemia. Then, the iron is mainly at the stage where it becomes easy to use. If you don’t get enough iron and continue to lose it, you can lead to a lack of red blood cells and anemia.
stages of iron deficiency
Describe the stages of iron deficiency step by step.
Stage 1: Progressive iron deficiency
During this early stage, iron stores replace reduced hemoglobin without causing anemia. Despite depleting these reserves, there is still sufficient iron in the ocean of iron pools from daily to weekly red blood cell turnover. People at this stage are at increased risk of anemia if iron loss persists and iron intake is inadequate. People often experience fatigue and decreased exercise tolerance.
Identifying iron deficiency
Iron is very important for our bodies because it helps red blood cells, muscle proteins, and cell function. A lack of iron can lead to a major problem called anemia. This can make us feel very tired and short of breath, and even cause heart problems. Therefore, ensuring you get enough iron is important to maintaining good health.
1. Fatigue: Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in red and white blood cells that carries oxygen. Iron deficiency reduces oxygen transport, causing fatigue and persistent fatigue.
2. Weaknesses: Similar to fatigue, weakness is caused by a lack of oxygen reaching tissues and muscles, impacting their ability to function optimally.
3. Pale or yellow skin: Decreased hemoglobin levels due to iron deficiency may cause a pale complexion. In severe cases, the skin may take on a yellowish hue. This is a condition known as pallor or jaundice.
Also read: How can I increase hemoglobin levels quickly?
4. Shortness of breath: A lack of iron reduces the oxygen-carrying ability of red blood cells, causing your body to work harder to get the oxygen it needs, resulting in shortness of breath.
5. Dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting: Reduced oxygen supply to the brain due to a drop in hemoglobin can cause dizziness, light-headedness, and even fainting.
6. Tongue swelling and pain: Iron deficiency can cause glossitis, an inflammation of the tongue that can cause swelling, pain, and even color changes.
7. Abnormal heart rate: Insufficient oxygen supply due to low hemoglobin levels causes the heart to work harder, which can result in irregular or rapid heartbeats.
8. Headache: Headaches can occur when less oxygen reaches the brain due to decreased hemoglobin levels.
9. Pain in bones, chest, abdomen, and joints: Iron is involved in the synthesis of essential components in bones and joints. Deficiency can cause bone and joint pain, and the strain on the heart and organs trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen can cause chest and abdominal pain.
10. Children’s growth issues: Iron is essential for growth and development. A lack of iron can affect growth, cause developmental problems, and affect a child’s overall health.
11. Cold hands and feet: A drop in hemoglobin reduces blood circulation and oxygen supply to the extremities, which can cause you to feel cold in your extremities.
Stage 2: Further iron losses
At this stage, red blood cells maintain their standard shape and contain adequate amounts of iron, but anemia occurs, characterized by low hemoglobin levels. In the United States, a significant proportion of menstruating women with minimal or absent iron stores may be at this stage.
Typical test results here include:
Ferritin and serum iron levels are low.
Transferrin saturation rate is low.
Increased unsaturated iron binding capacity.
Stage 3: Development of anemia
More severe iron deficiency causes classic anemia, where red blood cells have low iron content and are small in size. The body attempts to counter this deficiency through compensatory changes such as increased erythropoietin production and decreased hepcidin production.
1. Complete blood count (CBC): This test measures various components of the blood, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Includes assessment of hemoglobin levels. hematocrit, size and number of red blood cells. Low hemoglobin and decreased red blood cells indicate anemia and may suggest an underlying cause.
2. Serum iron test: Measures the amount of iron contained in the blood part of the blood. Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, so low levels may indicate iron deficiency.
3. Serum ferritin test: Serum or ferritin is a protein that stores iron in the body. Low ferritin levels suggest that iron stores are depleted even before anemia becomes apparent. This test helps identify iron deficiency in its early stages.
4. Assessment of transferrin levels: Transferrin is a protein that transports iron throughout the body. High levels may indicate the body’s attempt to compensate for low iron by producing more transferrin to transport the little iron available in the body.
5. Blood index: These are calculations based on CBC results that provide additional information about red blood cell size and hemoglobin content. Indicators such as MCV (mean corpuscular volume), Fatherless family (mean corpuscular hemoglobin) and MCHC (mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration) help characterize the type of anemia and determine its cause.
6. Liver and bone marrow biopsy: Although rarely used, these invasive procedures involve removing samples of the liver or bone marrow for further evaluation. These biopsies may be considered if other tests are inconclusive or to confirm suspicion of severe iron deficiency or other underlying conditions that affect blood cell production.
Using these tests together or separately, doctors can accurately diagnose iron deficiency and other types of anemia. The results can help determine the appropriate course of treatment, including iron supplementation, dietary changes, or, in severe cases, other medical interventions tailored to the specific type and cause of anemia.
Understanding and diagnosing iron deficiency requires a multifaceted approach that takes into account symptoms and accurate medical evaluation to ensure accurate identification and treatment.
When the body does not have enough iron, it goes through various stages, affecting blood work and cell function. It’s important to notice signs such as feeling very tired or, in children, having developmental problems. Your doctor can determine whether you have an iron problem by doing blood tests. This will help determine the cause of the problem, whether it’s iron deficiency or another cause.
Catching and resolving problems early can help you feel better, prevent other problems from occurring, and ensure your body has the right amount of iron to stay healthy.