What Happens if Iron Is Too Low?
Iron deficiency, or anaemia, is a condition caused by a lack of iron in the body. It means that the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which provide oxygen to body tissues.
An estimated 23% of pregnant women and 14% of non-pregnant women in the UK are thought to be anaemic. Iron deficiency is common among women of child-bearing age, who lose iron through menstruation and pregnancy.
Additionally, research has shown that 30% of hospitalised Covid-19 patients showed iron deficiency even after 60 days of catching the virus.
So, what happens if iron is too low? Well, we will outline everything you need to know in this article.
Why does the body need iron?
Iron has the symbol Fe on the Periodic Table of the Elements because it is derived from the Latin word ‘ferrum’, meaning ‘firmness’.
It is an important mineral which is needed for energy, immune function and for maintaining healthy blood. Meanwhile, children need iron for their growth and development.
Iron is also necessary for healthy cells, skin, hair and nails.
Around 70% of your body’s iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood, called haemoglobin- this is a protein which transports oxygen throughout the body.
If you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. So, your body will struggle to cope without these stores of iron. Your lungs and heart will have to work harder to supply oxygen that the body needs so you will feel more fatigued and short of breath.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency?
Here are the common symptoms of iron deficiency:
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Feeling weak
- Low energy or lethargy
- Pale skin
- Frequent headaches
- Dry or damaged hair
- Hair loss
- If you are constantly feeling cold
- Cold hands
- Dry or damaged skin
- Brittle fingernails, which chip and crack easily
- More frequent infections
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Sore muscles
- Cracks at the corner of the mouth
- Soreness in the tongue
- Unusual cravings
- Restless legs
- Bruising easily
- Developmental delays and behavioural problems in children
What causes iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency can occur at almost any age, for different reasons.
People tend to experience iron deficiency because:
- They are not getting enough iron in their diet.
- Due to blood loss (e.g. because of heavy menstrual periods, regular blood donation, or chronic conditions that involve bleeding).
- When there is increased need for iron (e.g. during pregnancy and breastfeeding).
- Due to a stomach ulcer.
- Due to chronic illnesses such as cancer, kidney failure, or autoimmune diseases.
- Due to a genetic form of anaemia (e.g. sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia).
- They are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- They are taking blood thinners such as aspirin.
- Their body is unable to absorb iron from food.
- Due to underlying digestive issues.
- Athletes are at greater risk of iron deficiency because regular exercise increases the body’s need for iron, and iron is lost through sweating.
What happens if iron is too low?
So, what happens if iron is too low?
Well, low iron levels can cause fatigue, poor concentration, memory and behaviour problems (especially in children, who are shown to have poorer attention spans and poorer academic performance if they are deficient in iron).
Untreated iron deficiency anaemia can increase your risk of illness and make it harder for your immune system to fight off infection.
Low iron levels can cause a barrage of health issues. For example, it can obstruct oxygen flow to the brain; this creates extreme pressure on the brain, which can lead to severe headaches.
Additionally, severe iron deficiency can lead to heart problems. Without enough red blood cells, your heart has to pump harder to get enough oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body, which can cause strain on the heart and result in heart failure or an irregular heartbeat.
Why is it important for pregnant women to have healthy iron levels?
Iron plays a key role in a healthy pregnancy.
Pregnant women need roughly twice the amount of iron than they did before. A pregnant woman’s body needs iron to make extra blood for the baby, to supply oxygen from her lungs to her organs and to the baby. This puts extra strain on the mother’s iron stores, thereby increasing the risk of maternal and infant mortality.
If a pregnant woman has insufficient iron levels, then this increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight and postpartum depression.
Pregnant women are often advised by their doctors to take prenatal vitamins which contain iron, to prevent and treat iron deficiency.
Is there such thing as ‘too much iron’ in the body?
Yes, it is possible to have too much iron in the body, due to a medical condition called Haemochromatosis.
Haemochromatosis is an inherited condition where iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years, causing unpleasant symptoms including fatigue, weight loss and joint pains.
What is an iron deficiency test?
An iron deficiency test is a way to diagnose whether you are deficient in iron. There are 2 types of iron deficiency tests: a blood test, and an at-home iron deficiency test.
A blood test at your GP will tell you whether you are deficient in iron.
Blood will be drawn from a vein in your arm. Your blood sample will be analysed.
If the results show that you are anaemic, your GP will usually prescribe you iron tablets, and advise you on how to include more iron-rich foods in your diet.
At-home Iron deficiency test
An at-home iron deficiency test is a test that you can take yourself. It measures the levels of anaemia in your blood.
The test is accurate, and it generates fast results. So, it is really convenient for people who want to find out their iron levels, without the time and hassle of waiting for a GP-ordered blood test.
Where can I buy an iron deficiency test?
This Instant self-administered Iron Deficiency Test detects Ferritin through a finger-prick method to measure levels of anaemia in the blood.
All you have to do is purchase our self-test online, and your order will be shipped to you quickly. Once you have taken the test, your result will be provided quickly.
Included in the test kit are a test cassette, buffer, alcohol pad, capillary dropper and lancet.
We will inform you via email our full instructions on how to take your test and send the kit back to our accredited lab for analysis. Once your results and personalised report is ready to view, you will receive a notification via email to log in to the Official Rapid Test online platform.
Click here to purchase our Instant Iron Deficiency Test and get yourself tested for iron deficiency today.
If your results are outside the normal range and are of concern, it is a priority that you contact your local GP or emergency service by calling 111 or 999.
Please note: If you feel sick, unwell or are concerned about your health, it is your responsibility to get in touch with the emergency services as soon as possible, do not wait for results to be issued.
Disclaimer: If your test range is abnormal, we will not be held responsible for follow-up treatments or notifying a healthcare professional, by taking a test with us, you agree that you will take the necessary steps to follow up with a healthcare provider independently.
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We hope you now have the answer to the question ‘what happens if iron is too low?’
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