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10 Hidden Signs of Iron Deficiency You Might Have Missed (+ what they can do to your health)

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A couple of years back, I got the shock of my life after being told that I had some signs of iron deficiency. It was scary but helped me put my health and wellbeing in perspective.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: this experience gave me the much-needed nudge to eventually start this blog. 🙂 

You see, at the time, I did know that iron was essential for our body, but had no idea how important it was. 

After discovering iron deficiency’s impact on women’s physical (and mental) wellness, I realized…

And it made me realize something…

Being aware of the “disguised” symptoms of low iron levels can help many women take charge of the deficit before it poses any serious health risks.

Today’s blog post is all about empowering women to identify 10 hidden signs of iron deficiency. So you can find a solution before it leads to long-lasting harm to your health.

Being aware of the “disguised” symptoms of low iron levels can help many women take charge of the deficit before it poses any serious health risks. 👩‍🦱️💚

Note:

Before beginning, I’d like to clarify some biological terms that may appear throughout the blog to remove any confusion.

  • Anemia: A condition that leads to low blood production because of hemoglobin deficiency. 
  • Hemoglobin: A type of protein that exists in the red blood cells of your blood, responsible for transferring oxygen to your organs.
  • Red blood cells: Primary constituent of blood consisting of hemoglobin.

What is Iron Deficiency?

Iron deficiency occurs when your body does not produce optimal levels of mineral iron. 

Long-term iron deficiency causes iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This condition limits red blood cell production and diminishes fresh oxygen supply to organs. 

About 9% of women in the US suffer from low iron levels and it’s among the top causes of anemia

In developing countries with fewer health amenities, this percentage is a lot higher. Similarly, these numbers also depend on your ethnicity and family history.

How Much Iron is Normal?

In case you were wondering, you can be iron deficient without being anemic. 

The ideal amount of iron in a woman’s body is 3.5 grams. Most of that iron (about 70%) is carried in hemoglobin, while the rest is found in muscle proteins or liver.


So it’s evident that your body needs mineral iron to function properly. Eating lots of foods that contain iron is one way to prevent low levels of this crucial element in your body.

Commonly missed signs of iron deficiency that women don't often notice.

Causes of Iron Deficiency

When I received iron deficiency diagnosis, my knee-jerk thought was – 

“Um, hello, body? How in the world do I have signs of iron deficiency? I eat a balanced diet with veggies and fruits. So can you not?”

Of course, I expressed my shock while discussing treatments with my doctor. 

She replied that even though our diets play an integral role in most nutrition deficiencies, it also may not be the ONLY reason.

Here are the possible causes of iron deficiency in women:

  • Insufficient iron intake
  • Family history
  • Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Frequently drinking tea or coffee
  • Eating lots of red meat
  • Pure vegetarian diet
  • Organ injuries, diseases or infections
  • Pregnancy 
  • Infections or ulcers
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

Besides going to a health professional to seek immediate treatment, you should also add iron-rich foods to combat iron deficiency in your diet.

Here’s a list of 100 best food sources of iron that women should consume on a daily or weekly basis.

Now without further ado, let’s move on to the different signs of iron deficiency that are common in women.

Iron deficit symptoms in women

10 Hidden Signs of Iron Deficiency in Women

The first thing you must know about the iron deficit is that it sneaks up on you. You may notice subtle physical and mental changes or nothing noticeable at all. 

This makes low iron levels all the more dangerous for your wellbeing.

And yes, this is exactly why I wanted to cover this important topic. 

The earlier you identify the warning signs of iron deficiency, the faster you can start natural treatments to manage this condition.

Here’s a list of 10 often-missed symptoms of iron deficiency in women.

  1. Changes in menstrual bleeding
  2. Extreme fatigue
  3. Digestive problems
  4. Skin paleness
  5. Low body temperature
  6. Nail problems
  7. Bruises
  8. Headaches
  9. Nausea
  10. Shortness of breath

Keep in mind that you may experience one or more of these symptoms depending on the severity of iron deficiency.

If you feel you can relate to any signs mentioned above, get professional consultation ASAP!

Let’s see in detail how each of these iron deficiency signs affect your health.

1. Changes in menstrual bleeding

A study found that about 10% of the iron deficiency cases occur because of menstrual bleeding problems.

During the menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding — aka menorrhagia — results in iron levels depletion.

This is a common symptom, particularly in perimenopausal women aged 20+ years.

If you’re confused about what heavy bleeding refers to, here’s a pro-tip by Cemcor.

Women usually lose about 35ml of blood during a cycle. Any sanitary product (including tampons or pads) can soak up to 5ml of blood.

If you have to use more than 7 products during your cycle, you might want to get your iron levels checked.

2. Extreme fatigue

Because of the iron shortage, your body organs don’t receive enough fresh oxygen supply, resulting in increased weakness.

Untreated ferrous deficiency can also lead to muscle pain.

Per the American Society of Hematology, lack of iron reduces energy production in mitochondria — the energy center — and impairs muscle movements.

In case you feel strangely tired at odd times, you may be iron deficit.

3. Improper bowels


Improper bowel movement is yet another alarming sign of iron deficiency in women.
 
However, this problem is more common in people who have a chronic digestive illness that renders them iron deficit.
 
Frequent episodes of bloating or diarrhea is a symptom of low to no iron absorption in your body.
 
Also, if you feel an increased pressure in the abdominal region, there may be some internal bleeding that’s causing the iron deficit.
 
In case you notice such problems, immediately consult a professional.

4. Skin and tongue paleness


This is perhaps the most common sign of iron deficiency in women as well as children.

Iron deficiency for a long time may result in anemia, leading to red blood cell shortage. That’s what reduces the redness/pinkish tinge from your skin and makes it pale.

Another similar sign is a pale tongue. Low iron levels affect the iron-absorbing proteins in your tongue called myoglobin. This makes your tongue appear whitish.

Dehydration, such as dry mouth corners, also signals an iron deficiency.

Infographic - 3 signs of iron deficiency in women that are often ignored.

5. Low body temperature


Fresh oxygenated blood supply keeps your body warm. But because of an iron deficit, there’s a limited supply to your hands and feet. 

This results in dropped body temperature, along with a subtle tingling or numbness.

If you feel unusually cold during the day and night, it may be a clear sign of iron deficiency.

6. Nail ridges and brittleness

Abnormally shaped nails with inward depression or ridge is yet another sign of iron deficiency.

In some cases, women may also notice brittleness causing the nails to break easily. However, this factor is common in aged women.

Look out for any subtle signs of iron deficiency in your nails to combat the deficit at the right time.

7. Bruises

You may also notice big bluish-purple skin marks, as the earliest signs of low iron levels. Sometimes your skin may get too itchy as well.

To be frank, I had noticed strange bruises in a few places – strange because I didn’t remember bumping those particular spots anywhere.

But, as I didn’t know at the time that it meant something, I ended up ignoring them.

If you’re experiencing similar bruising, please do discuss it with a professional to start a timely iron supplement course.

Did you know that iron deficiency causes about 800,000 deaths globally every year? 😱

Here are the 10 signs of iron deficiency in women that often go unnoticed. 👇

#womenhealth #womenhh #iron #nutrients #deficiencies

8. Headaches

Iron deficiency causes various types of weaknesses including headaches. Recurring episodes of dizziness and head pressure could mean that you’re low on iron.

As iron deficiency limits fresh blood supply to the brain, it creates increased pressure on blood vessels. This triggers frequent headaches.

You might want to make note of this factor particularly if you don’t often suffer head pressure problems.

9. Nausea

Being one of the most common signs of nutritional deficiencies, vomiting or nausea is also a factor you shouldn’t ignore.

It’s common for pregnant women to have morning sickness. But if you’re not pregnant and still feeling oddly nauseated, you might want to get your iron levels checked.

10. Shortness of breath

By now you know that iron, hemoglobin, and oxygen have a directly proportional relationship.

Low iron levels affect hemoglobin content, which decreases oxygen supply.

If your body suffers an oxygen shortage, your breathing rate gets high. That’s why even after performing a light task, you may experience shortness of breath, as your body demands fresh oxygen.

In case you notice this vital sign of iron deficiency, immediately refer to your physician.

I hope this article gives you a clear idea of how important iron is for us. 

Noticing these subtle and prominent signs of iron deficiency in women can help prevent further health risks.

Have you suffered from iron deficiency? How did you learn about it? Share your experience with me in the comments below.

References:

  • https://www.hematology.org/Patients/Anemia/Iron-Deficiency.aspx  
  • https://ashpublications.org/blood/article/118/12/3191/28774/Ironing-out-fatigue 
  • https://share.upmc.com/2018/03/brittle-nails-causes-treatments/


Sabika

Hey hey!

I'm the creator of Women Health Hub. After graduating as a biomedical engineer, I decided to pursue health writing because of my deep passion for writing & health. In 2019, I started Women Health Hub with an aim to empower and educate women to improve their wellbeing. Besides blogging, I love playing word games, Netflix & cooking.

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13 Comments

  1. This is very helpful! The only two symptoms of iron deficiency that were ever presented to me were fatigue and craving ice.

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Thanks! And yes, fatigue is the only symptom most of us know about, but in reality, iron deficiency has many other risks.

  2. Wow, this is such valuable information! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Thanks Rose, glad you find it useful! 🙂

  3. Jon Maldia says:

    Thanks for this. I’ll be sharing it with my wife.

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Thanks, that’d be great! 🙂

  4. This post really gives us some good information. I knew about fatigue but not most of the other systems. I was severely deficient at one time and had most of these symptoms but was clueless. Thanks so much for making me aware!

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Thanks, Heather! We really need more awareness on this subject.

  5. Some of this I had read before, but some of it was definitely new! Thank you!!! We women really should be well informed about this.

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Glad you found the info helpful, Michelle! 🙂

  6. Lucas Rogers says:

    Honestly i’am not good at reading but your blog is really easy to understand, thanks for sharing…

  7. Nice Info dear. Great article being shared by you. Really informative, helpful.

    1. Sabika Hassan says:

      Thanks so much! 🙂

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