Iron deficiency anaemia, its full name, is caused by lack of iron. This in turn causes a lack of adequate healthy red blood cells in the body.
It’s usually treated with iron tablets prescribed by a GP and by eating iron-rich foods – but how can you recognise if you have an iron deficiency in the first place?
According to the NHS, there are four main signs to look out for. These include: tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations), and pale skin.
Less common symptoms of the condition are a headache, hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus), food tasting strange, feeling itchy, and a sore tongue.
Hair loss, wanting to eat non-food items (such as paper or ice), finding it hard to swallow, painful open sores in the corners of your mouth, spoon-shaped nails and restless legs syndrome can also be signs.
If you experience these symptoms you should see a GP. They can then carry out a simple blood test to check your red blood cells.
If you do have low levels, they may recommend you to take iron supplements.
You should also make sure you eat plenty of good sources of iron too when you have an iron deficiency, or to prevent one from developing in the first place.
Holland and Barrett lists five foods that are good sources of iron. These include dark-green leafy vegetables, like watercress and kale, beans, peas and lentils, animal proteins, like steak, nuts and seeds, and tofu.
Iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency – the World Health Organisation says around 25 per cent of people worldwide are anaemic due to an iron deficiency.
The high street health shop adds: “It’s not known how many people in the UK have an iron deficiency, possibly because the symptoms can be dismissed or mistaken for another condition. But certain factors can make low iron levels more likely.
“These include if you’ve been losing a lot of blood – from heavy periods or a stomach ulcer, for example – you’re not getting adequate iron from your diet, or you’re pregnant.
“During pregnancy, your body produces more blood to support your growing baby, and therefore needs more iron to make all those extra red blood cells. So you could be at risk if you’re not getting enough from your diet.”
What happens if your iron deficiency is left untreated?
If the condition is left untreated, the NHS states it can make you more at risk of illness and infection or may increase your risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs – such as an abnormally fast heartbeat or heart failure.
In pregnancy, it can cause a greater risk of complications – before and after birth.
Another mineral important for healthy functioning of the body is calcium.
Calcium deficiency, also known as hypocalcemia, may not cause any symptoms at first, but as the condition develops, signs may begin to show.
Severe symptoms of hypocalcemia include confusion or memory loss and easy fracturing of the bones.
Calcium has several important functions, including helping build strong bones and teeth, regulating muscle contractions, including heartbeat, and making sure blood clots normally.
It is also important to get enough vitamin D as it helps regulate the amount of calcium in the body.