Iron is a very important component of a healthy diet, and without adequate iron intake for our bodies’ needs, we can be left feeling pretty lousy. At LDC, our private doctors detect patients’ iron deficiencies every day, by means of simple blood testing! So if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’re about to mention below, it might be worth popping in to get your iron levels checked!
Why Do We Need Iron?
Our bodies needs iron to make red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen around the body. If your iron levels are low, your body will not be able to produce enough red blood cells to carry this oxygen around the body. This means you can become anaemic – defined as having low red blood cells. Lots of things can cause anaemia but iron deficiency is the most common causes of anaemia.
Iron Deficiency Symptoms
The symptoms of anaemia can be pretty hard to spot! Whether you get any symptoms at all really depends on how quickly you become anaemic – if you become anaemic quickly, you’re more likely to get symptoms, but if it happens over a longer period of time, your body copes better, meaning you might not get any symptoms at all!
You might be anaemic if you:
- Have been feeling really tired
- Are getting breathless more easily
- Have noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
- Looking pale
These are the most common symptoms, although sometimes people can experience headaches, tinnitus, itchiness or hair loss with anaemia.
Why Am I Iron Deficient?
Lots of things can cause a low iron level.
In men and older women (who have been through the menopause), the most common reason is bleeding from the stomach or intestines. This can be caused by ulcers, cancer, or by taking certain drugs, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen. You’re also more at risk of anaemia if you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis.
In younger women, who are still menstruating, the most common causes of iron deficiency anaemia are heavy periods or pregnancy.
There are many other causes of anaemia. Your doctor will be the best person to help determine what might be causing your anaemia.
Although some people think that certain diets, especially vegetarian and vegan diets, lead to you getting iron deficiency anaemia, this is very unlikely. However, if your diet is low in iron, this does mean you’re more likely to become anaemic if you have one of the conditions mentioned above.
I Think I’m Iron Deficient, What Can My GP Do?
Iron deficiency can be diagnosed using a simple blood test. However your doctor may need to do further tests to figure out what it is that is causing your anaemia! It’s no good just treating the anaemia without detecting and treating the cause.
These further investigations might involve a referral to the outpatient department of a hospital, depending on our medical history and symptoms. Your doctor may ask you about your diet, any medications you might be taking, your periods (if you are woman) and whether there any health problems in your family.
Your doctor may also need to examine you, in particular examining your tummy and your heart. If you have noticed any unusual bleeding, such as from the back passage or the vagina, your doctor my need to examine these areas too.
Iron Deficiency Anaemia Treatment
Iron deficiency is usually pretty easy to treat, by taking iron supplements, which can either be prescribed or bought over-the-counter. This usually solves the problem and more often than not doesn’t lead to any long term problems. Iron is usually given in the form ferrous sulphate, which is usually taken twice a day.
Some people find that taking iron tablets causes tummy pains, constipation/ diarrhoea and nausea (feeling sick). If these effects are bothering you, it is a good idea to take your iron tablets with food or after eating.
You will also need to come back and get your iron levels checked by your doctor to make sure the treatment is working.
The team should also figure out what’s going on that is causing your anaemia. Once that’s figured out, that will need to be treated too.
Which Foods Contain Iron?
You can also increase your iron levels by eating more iron rich foods. This is the best way to improve your iron levels, if you’re slightly anaemic.
- Dark green leafy vegetable (such as watercress and spinach – just ask our friend Popeye!)
- Bread or cereals fortified with iron (Check the label)
- Brown rice
- Pulses and beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Meat, fish, tofu
- Dried fruit (including apricots, prunes)
Another important thing to consider is that foods rich in Vitamin C help your body absorb iron, while other foods and drinks can reduce how well your body absorbs iron. In particular, tea and coffee and calcium-containing foods and drinks (e.g. milk, cheese) can reduce the ability of the body to absorb iron.
Food that is rich in Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron
Making sure your diet has enough iron in it is part of having a healthy balanced diet – so if you feel you aren’t getting enough iron in your diet, add some of the above foods into your shopping basket! And if you’re worried about anything you’ve read, or feel like you might be experiencing symptoms of iron deficiency, book an appointment at any of our nine private clinics. If you need a private GP London Doctors Clinic is here for you.