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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. 🙂
At the time, I didn’t know exactly how essential iron was for our body.
Even though many women experience symptoms of iron deficiency, it’s still one of the least discussed topics in the health industry.
Women are at a high risk of iron deficiency anemia and it can truly mess up their health. Sadly though, it often goes undiagnosed and the low iron severely impacts their physical and mental wellbeing.
This is why it’s important to spread awareness about the effects of iron deficiency so you can recognize the indicators and take action right away.
In this blog, you’ll learn about the most dangerous signs of iron deficiency in women and how to take control of this issue.
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- What is Iron Deficiency?
- What is The Normal Iron Range for Females?
- What Are the Causes of Iron Deficiency?
- How Can You Raise Your Low Iron Levels Quickly?
- 10 Hidden Signs of Iron Deficiency in Women
What is Iron Deficiency?
The initial iron deficiency symptoms occur when your body fails to produce optimal levels of mineral iron.
You need iron to generate hemoglobin in red blood cells (RBC). The scarlet RBC color comes from this iron-rich protein that carries oxygen to the body organs via blood.
Long-term low levels of iron lead to a serious condition called iron deficiency anemia (IDA). It limits red blood cell production and diminishes fresh oxygen supply to organs.
About 9% of women in the US suffer from signs of iron deficiency, making it one of the top causes of anemia.
In developing countries, the percentage is a LOT higher. They have poor access to healthy nutrition and are ill-equipped with basic health amenities.
What is The Normal Iron Range for Females?
Both insufficient or extra iron absorption can be detrimental to your health.
The normal range of iron for females is between 50 to 170 μg/dl. Anything less than this might result in severely low levels of iron.
The normal range for ferritin in women is between 30 μg/ml and 300 μg/ml. The average ferritin levels for women are higher than 40 μg/ml. If the ferritin levels are lower than 15 μg/ml, you might notice some symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
Experts agree that ideally, women need about 3.5 grams of iron. Almost 70% of this iron is carried in hemoglobin, while the rest is found in muscle proteins or the liver.
Now that’s the story of low iron levels.
But what if you have excess iron in your body?
A genetic condition known as hemochromatosis leads to higher absorption of iron during food intake. This extra iron is stored in the liver, pancreas, and heart.
What Are the Causes of Iron Deficiency?
Numerous factors lead to signs of iron deficiency. Certain unhealthy habits and lifestyle practices can affect your body’s ability to absorb iron from foods. As a result, you might notice serious iron deficiency symptoms.
Here are the possible causes of low iron levels in women:
- Insufficient iron intake
- Family history
- Frequently drinking tea or coffee
- Eating lots of red meat
- Pure vegetarian diet
- Injuries that cause loss of blood
- Stress, depression, anxiety
- Infections or ulcers
- Intestinal disorder that restricts iron absorption
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
Interestingly, certain drugs are linked to a build-up of iron. Study shows that cocaine consumption accumulates iron in the brain, causing serious harm later on.
Another research shows that using non-aspirin pain relief pills (NASAIDS) is also a risk factor for serious symptoms of iron deficiency.
How Can You Raise Your Low Iron Levels Quickly?
Besides consulting a health professional for various signs of iron deficiency, you should add iron-rich foods to fulfill the need.
I bet you already know about green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale, being the best food sources rich in iron.
Besides, many types of meat are also popular foods with high iron, such as red meat, chicken, and turkey. Nutritionists also recommend eating nuts and dried fruits to boost low iron levels quickly.
Some women add grains and herbs to their iron-rich diet plan. They contain compounds crucial for increasing hemoglobin production.
I would also suggest trying out some authentic iron supplements to deal with the dangerous iron deficiency symptoms.
Now without further ado, let’s move on to the different symptoms of iron deficiency in women you need to look out for.
The first thing you must know about low iron levels is that it sneaks up on you. You may notice subtle physical and mental changes or nothing noticeable at all.
This makes iron deficiency anemia symptoms all the more dangerous for your wellbeing.
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.
- Abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Extreme fatigue
- Digestive problems
- Skin paleness
- Low body temperature
- Nail problems
- Shortness of breath
Keep in mind that you may experience one or more of these symptoms of low iron depending on the severity of the condition.
If you feel you can relate to any indicators above, get professional consultation ASAP!
Let’s see in detail how each of these signs of very low iron affect your health.
1. Abnormal menstrual bleeding
A study found that about 10% of iron deficiency cases occur because of problems in menstrual bleeding.
During the menstrual cycle, heavy bleeding — aka menorrhagia — results in severely low iron levels.
This is one of the common signs of iron deficiency, particularly in 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 use more than 7 products during a cycle, there’s a high risk of low iron levels.
2. Extreme fatigue
Because of the iron shortage, your organs don’t receive enough fresh oxygen supply. As a result, you experience abrupt weakness.
Untreated ferritin low levels can also lead to stinging muscle pain.
According to the American Society of Hematology, symptoms of decreased iron reduce energy production in mitochondria, also known as the energy center. This leads to impaired muscle movements.
If you feel strangely tired at odd times, it might be one of the signs of iron deficiency.
3. Improper bowels
Improper bowel movement is yet another alarming symptom of severely low iron.
However, it’s more pronounced in people with a chronic digestive illness.
For instance, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and autoimmune gastritis are a few intestinal problems leading to alarming symptoms of iron deficiency anemia.
Frequent episodes of bloating or diarrhea are also signs of iron deficiency that you need to take seriously.
Besides, if you feel an increased pressure in the abdominal region or relentless pain, you might have some internal bleeding. Get it treated to avoid severe iron deficiency symptoms.
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. It reduces the redness/pinkish tinge from your skin and makes it pale.
Similarly, a pale tongue is also one of the leading iron deficiency symptoms. 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 indicators of decreased ferritin in your body.
5. Low body temperature
Fresh oxygenated blood supply keeps your body warm. But because of low iron deficiency anemia, limited blood is delivered to your hands and feet.
As a result, you might feel sudden chills, even during hot weather, accompanied with shivering and subtle tingling or numbness in limbs.
If you feel unusually cold during the day and night, this is one of the most serious signs of iron deficiency.
6. Nail ridges and brittleness
Abnormally shaped nails with inward depression or ridge are also symptoms of severely low iron.
In some cases, women may notice nail brittleness causing them to break easily. However, this is more common in aged women.
Look out for any subtle signs of iron deficiency in your nails and timely combat the deficit.
Have you noticed any big bluish-purple skin marks that appeared out of nowhere?
These are alarming early symptoms of low iron. At times, your skin could get too itchy as well.
Another crucial thing to note is whether the bruises are painful or not. Marks of iron deficiency are often painless.
The same happened to me. One day a weird bruise emerged on my limb. It was too strange because I didn’t remember bumping anywhere.
Naturally, I ended up forgetting about it.
But had I known it’s one of the most alarming signs of iron deficiency, I could have been more proactive about my treatments right away.
If you notice random bruises, you might want to take them as serious symptoms of low iron levels.
Decreased ferritin levels cause intense weakness including headaches. Recurring episodes of dizziness and head pressure could mean that you’re severely low on iron.
That’s because you now have a limited fresh blood supply to the brain, creating increased pressure on blood vessels. As a result, you’ll have extreme headaches.
You might want to make note of this factor particularly if you don’t often suffer head pressure problems.
Vomiting and nausea are also common signs of iron deficiency that you should NEVER ignore.
In fact, most pregnant women with low iron experience this symptom of anemia. Continuous morning sickness often indicates this issue.
Severe cases of iron deficiency anemia lead to heartburn and feeling sick to your stomach. It’s also possible to lose your appetite in the process.
Read More: 25 Best Foods for Pregnancy Heartburn Relief
10. Shortness of breath
Since low iron levels affect hemoglobin content, it decreases oxygen supply to your vital organs.
This results in a high breathing rate. Meaning, you’d start heaving after doing even a light chore or routine task. This condition is also known as shortness of breath when your body’s demanding fresh oxygen.
If you notice this iron deficiency symptom, it’s alarming and needs your attention ASAP.
I hope this article gives you a clear idea about the different severe signs of iron deficiency in women.
It’s important to look out for these symptoms of anemia in your body and get the right treatment on time. Otherwise, it could lead to serious health risks.
Have you suffered from iron deficiency? Share your experience with me in the comments below.