13 Signs of Iron Deficiency You Might Be Ignoring
Iron deficiency is often underdiagnosed—and undiscovered. Watch out for these signs that you’ve developed iron deficiency anemia.
You feel tired and weak
Fatigue is probably the symptom most commonly associated with iron deficiency. The reason for the exhaustion? A lack of oxygen flowing through your body. “When you have anemia, you have fewer blood cells to carry oxygen to vital organs of the body,” says Ian Tong, chief medical officer at Doctor On Demand. “This oxygen deficit is global and can cause vague symptoms like fatigue, headache, and weakness.” Learn 9 other reasons why you could be feeling fatigued.
You may be short of breath
According to the Mayo Clinic, lack of oxygen can also make someone with an iron deficiency short of breath. Studies also show that since your muscles can’t get enough oxygen to do normal activities like walking, your breathing rate increases in attempt to make up for the lack of oxygen, causing shortness of breath.
You develop restless leg syndrome
Restless leg syndrome, a nervous system disorder that creates a “pins and needles” feeling and prompts an unconscious urge to move your feet. This can disturb your sleep. It’s one of the more unusual symptoms of iron deficiency, according to Dr. Tong.
Your hands and feet may feel cold
You may feel dizzy
Feeling dizzy or light-headed? Iron deficiency anemia could be to blame. “Dizziness or chest pain can also result because your body is trying to tell you to lie down and let more oxygen get to the heart or brain,” Dr. Tong says.
You might develop heart conditions
Because a loss of iron affects your red blood cell count, a shortage could cause your heart to work harder to deliver oxygen throughout the body—and cause you to develop heart murmurs or an enlarged heart. For those who already have cardiovascular disease, low iron levels could prove deadly. “People with diseases of the heart or blood vessels—also called cardiovascular disease—could suffer a heart attack or stroke if they develop iron deficiency,” Dr. Tong says.
You might crave weird things
One of the weirdest symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia is pica, which is a sudden desire to eat some pretty unusual things, like clay, dirt, or ice.
You may become more prone to infections
Iron is essential to a healthy, functioning immune system, so a deficiency in iron can lead to an increased susceptibility to infection. “Red blood cells help to transport oxygen to the spleen, which is one place where infections can be fought off,” Murr tells Everyday Health. She adds that the impact on white blood cells also plays a role in immunity. “When someone has an iron deficiency, the white blood cells aren’t being produced as well, and they’re not as strong because they’re not getting enough oxygen—making that person more susceptible to infections.” These are the best sources of iron you’re probably missing.
Your tongue may swell up
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says a swollen tongue is one of the more common signs of iron deficiency anemia. Your tongue may also become more smooth or sore as a result of low myoglobin levels. An article in the Western Journal of Medicine reports that mouth ulcers and red cracks at the corners of the mouth may also occur.
Your skin may turn pale
Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. If you have an iron deficiency, your hemoglobin levels drop and, as a result, you look more pale than normal. But your skin isn’t the only body part that can turn pale. Paleness may also appear on your gums, the inside of your eyelids or lips, and your nails.
You might develop headaches
If you find yourself popping pain killers for headaches on a regular basis, iron deficiency anemia could be to blame. “When you have anemia you have fewer blood cells to carry oxygen to vital organs of the body,” Dr. Tong says. “This oxygen deficit can cause vague symptoms like headaches.” Check out these other anemia symptoms you shouldn’t ignore.
Your nails may change
While this symptom is less common and often seen only in severe cases of iron deficiency, you may develop a condition called koilonychia. It causes nails to turn brittle and chip easily, and eventually, it can alter the shape of the nails. The middle of the nail dips and the edges turn up, so it looks like a spoon.
Your hair might change or fall out
Iron deficiency anemia can cause hair to become dry and damaged. In some cases, it can even result in hair loss. “When hair follicles don’t get enough oxygen, they go into a resting stage, and hair falls out and doesn’t grow back until anemia is improved,” Marilyn Murr, MD, assistant professor of family and community medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, tells Everyday Health. Next, don’t miss these 10 signs your body is running low on key vitamins.