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Women's Health Series - Iron Deficiency Anaemia

Blood is a vital fluid that is circulating throughout our body. The heart pumps blood constantly through the veins and arteries in the body. It is our blood that carries all the nutrients and oxygen to each and every cell of the body. It also helps in the removal of waste products from these cells. When something goes wrong in our blood, it can affect our health and the quality of our life.

Anaemia is a blood condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal. There are different types of anaemia. If you have any form of anaemia, the haemoglobin levels in your blood will be very low. This leads to tissues and organs in the body not getting sufficient oxygen. Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. are some of the symptoms of anaemia.

What is Iron Deficiency Anaemia?

The red blood cells present in the blood contain a protein called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body. Haemoglobin is full of iron. So your body needs iron to make this protein. When there is a deficit of iron in the blood, it is not able to make sufficient haemoglobin needed by the body. This leads to a condition called Iron Deficiency Anaemia. It is the most common type of anaemia.

Common symptoms of Iron Deficiency Anaemia are:

  • Unusual tiredness

  • Pale, dry skin

  • Increased sensitivity to cold temperatures

  • Headaches

  • Hypersensitivity of the mouth and tongue

  • Decrease in appetite, especially in small children and pregnant women

  • Unusual cravings for non-food items like dirt, starch, ice, etc

  • Brittle nails and hair

  • Heart murmurs or palpitations

Who is at risk?

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers since during this phase a woman's body needs more iron than normal

  • Infants and children as they go through rapid growth spurts

  • Teenage girls may be deficient in iron due to menstruation and poor food intake or choices

  • Women facing chronic blood loss caused by excessive menstruation

  • People who have internal bleeding and lose more blood cells and iron than your body can replace

  • People who don’t get enough iron from the foods that they eat

  • Common in older adults because of chronic (ongoing) diseases, poor diet and lack of iron.

Treatment for Iron Deficiency Anaemia

Iron-deficiency anaemia is diagnosed by blood tests that should include a complete blood count (CBC). Iron supplements and dietary changes (eating food rich in iron and vitamin C, which increases iron absorption from food) are the common forms of treatment for this type of anaemia.

Caution: Iron supplements should be taken only under the guidance and supervision of a medical practitioner. Too much iron in the blood can cause other health issues.

Nutrition Guidelines to Ensure Good Iron Intake:

Here are a few tips to prevent and control Iron Deficiency Anaemia:

  • Include green leafy vegetables in your daily diet

  • Beans are good sources of iron so eat a variety of them

  • You can add iron-fortified cereals to your diet

  • Many types of nuts and seeds are good sources of iron. You can eat them on their own or sprinkle them on salads or yoghurt.

  • Non-vegetarians can include lean meats, fish and poultry in their daily diet.

  • Avoid eating iron-rich foods with foods and beverages high in caffeine and calcium as they block iron absorption

  • Eat iron-rich foods with foods rich in Vitamin C (oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, cauliflower, tamarind, amla) as it helps in the easy absorption of iron from the food

Following a healthy diet ensures that you get enough of the nutrients that your body needs to make healthy blood cells. Healthy eating is also good for your overall health. Have healthy foods at home, role model healthy eating habits for your children and teach them to make healthy food choices. Iron deficiency anaemia can be prevented in the elderly too by ensuring a nutrient-rich diet. Make following a healthy diet a family goal.

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