Iron deficiency-- What many people suffer. How dangerous is it?

I read that it is “common” in children and women of childbearing age. If it is common, how do we know it’s not supposed to be “low”.
The symptoms seem so vague. Tiredness, dizzyness. Sometimes no symptoms at all. Could all these symptoms (and non-symptoms) be caused by something else? If low iron does not get treated what’s the worst that can happen?

Also, I’ve never heard of anyone dying from Iron Deficiency, but I have heard of children dying from ingesting too much iron. What if you’re not a child. Can you just eat some iron filings and be done with it?

Low serum iron will cause iron-deficiency anemia and can be detected by a blood sample. Symptoms include being weak with no energy. Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin.

Males, as a rule, don’t have to worry about that, but women lose iron during menses. I don’t think iron filings will do any good. The body can’t digest them. You need iron rich food or supplements. However, unless you do have a lew iron level, you should not take supplements, as excess is worse than a deficiency.

Men, in fact, should be careful not to take iron supplements. Any amount of iron over and above a man’s daily needs should be avoided. Too much iron buildup can damage the liver.

My (post-menopausal) mother is almost continually iron deficient, but the only effect it has on her is that she’s not usually allowed to give blood. Go figure.

I’ve heard that the best way to supplement one’s iron is to just cook acidic foods like tomato sauce in a cast-iron pot.

Cecil also wrote about the danger from heart disease for some people who get too much iron:

The main problem with having iron deficiency is that it leads to anemia and the symptoms thereof i.e. weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath.

Iron deficiency may also lead to pica (bizarre cravings for things like ice or dirt) and to the so-called “restless leg syndrome” (a troublesome, involuntary moving of the legs especially at night). I don’t know why these things result from iron deficiency.

Any man or postmenopausal woman with iron deficiency anemia should be presumed to be bleeding from their stomach or bowels until proven otherwise (premenopausal woman lose iron with menstruation). This usually means investigations such as endoscopy (a direct visualization of the stomach and bowel lining).

Soemtimes, thalassemias (primary disorders of hemoglobin per se) can be mistaken for iron deficiency. This is common in people of Mediterranean, middle-Eastern, and Asian descent.

Dammit , Karl, I wanted to talk about picas. My favorite hematologist told us about her most bizarre patient picas. One patient craved (and ate) cigarette ashes. :eek:

Another patient had symptoms of mercury poisoning. She had been craving (and eating) books-lots of books! Mercury was apparently used in the manufacturing process.

You don’t say. How bizarre.

Sounds like she had a huge appetite for knowledge.

have a friend who had a serious iron deficiency…

she lost all her hair , and 4 stone, and she had blackouts and fainting spells, and was so weak she couldn’t get out of bed. she needed blood transfusions to get over it, and she’s fine now.

so as far as “the worst that could happen” i think that’s it.


A smiley for biblio and a miniWHOOSH for lil’ ol’ me, who didn’t get the joke right away.

US News & World Report recently had an item about a study written up in the journal Pediatrics which correlated iron deficiency with poor math scores, particularly for high school aged girls.

Do you think this has anything to do with why women apply red lipstick to their lips? One of the symptoms of iron deficiency is that the lips look pale rather then a normal red color. A woman with pale lips would therefore not appear to be a good choice to bear your children. Thus we may have evolved an instinct that says the redder the lips the better. And then women found that red lipstick was attractive to men.

Y’know, I read that, and thought “That would be really funny, if it had been posted by bibliophage. Oh.”.

Thanks a lot, bib. You managed to get the rest of the folks in the lab staring at me.

Thanks all. The thread dropped and I thought no one cared. I thought pica was caused by too much lead in your system.

Small children commonly have picas. One thing they really crave is paint chips. If a kid lives in a house with lead paint (pre-WWII era, usually), and they eat the chips, they get lead poisoning.

The “worst that could happen” as explained by my doctor in simple terms, is heart attacks, stroke, death. They rank as pretty bad in my book.