Iron Deficiency and Iron Deficiency Anaemia

Iron is important to the functioning of cells in the body. We cannot make it, and normally only get it through food.  We need it to carry oxygen in the blood and for functioning of muscles cells, skin, hair, and nails.

Red blood cells are used to transport oxygen around the body. In addition to reduced muscle function, severe iron deficiency can result in fewer red cells which leads to major organs not getting enough fresh oxygen (iron deficiency anaemia)

Symptoms of Iron Deficiency  

There are several symptoms related to iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia. The most common of these are:

  • Tiredness, fatigue or lack of energy
  • Lack of concentration or fortgetfulness
  • Shortness of breath or loss of fitness
  • Noticeable heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Pale skin

There are also some less-common symptoms, however these are not always present

  • Headaches
  • Faintness /dizziness
  • Itchiness
  • restless legs
  • Brittle nails or spoon-shaped nails
  • Desire to eat odd things like paper or ice
  • Sores or ulcers near the mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore tongue
  • Hair loss

 Causes of Iron Deficiency  

There are many things that can cause iron deficiency .

For many it may simply be lack of iron in the diet, including following vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.

For others it may be poor absorption due to intestinal problems, such as coeliac disease.

Women are more at risk as common causes are:

  • Heavy or frequent menstruation (periods)
  • Pregnancy

In men and women iron deficiency  may be due to bleeding within the stomach and intestines. This bleeding can be caused by:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Stomach or bowel cancers
  • The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Piles/haemorrhoids

Prevention of Iron Deficiency  

The number one way of preventing iron deficiency anaemia is a good diet. Certain foods such as red meat, beans, tofu, nuts, and green leafy vegetables are all high in iron and so we recommend eating lots of these.

To get the iron out of food, especially plant-based sources of iron, eating acidic or foods that are high in Vitamin C at the same time helps. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Excessive amounts of dairy, tea, coffee, and wholegrain cereals should be avoided at the time of eating iron as these can all interfere with the body’s intake of iron.

Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency

If you experience any of the symptoms of iron deficiency, or you have  conditions which can cause iron deficiency  it is important you consult your GP. Your doctor may send you for a blood test to check if you are low in iron, anaemic or need extra tests for possible causes of the deficiency.

Investigation as to the cause of iron deficiency

Once iron deficiency is diagnosed, it is important to investigate for the cause, as for some people these can be serious, life-threatening conditions that need correct management rather than simply treating the low iron.

Causes of Iron Deficiency  

There are many things that can cause iron deficiency.

For many it may simply be lack of iron in the diet, including following vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.

For others it may be poor absorption due to intestinal problems, such as coeliac disease.

Women are more at risk as common causes are:

  • Heavy or frequent menstruation (periods)
  • Pregnancy

In men and women iron deficiency may be due to bleeding within the stomach and intestines. This bleeding can be caused by:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Stomach or bowel cancers
  • The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin

Treatment of Iron Deficiency

Once you have been diagnosed with low iron levels or iron deficiency anaemia, and your GP has determined the under lying cause, the next step is treatment. As both too little or too much iron may result in illness, and at Reydon Street Medical Centre we can advise on the right approach for you.

 Oral Treatments

During a consultation  with your GP and they can advise on dietary changes, specific iron tablets or liquid, ways to optimise absorption as well as  the duration of treatment.

If you are taking an iron supplement by mouth there are ways of improving iron absorption.

Use a tablet dose of 40- 80 mg elemental iron.

Take it in the morning before food.

Take it with some Vitamin C or citrus fruit juice (not tea or coffee)

If you have gastrointestinal upset you may want to try taking it alternate days.

Only a small amount of iron can be absorbed each day, and so you will often need to take it for 3- 6 months.

Intravenous Infusions for iron deficiency anaemia

Oral iron is not always well tolerated and may cause unpleasant side effects. Sometimes iron supplements are not sufficient to raise the body’s iron levels quickly enough for particular patients.

In cases of iron deficiency anaemia, and oral treatments have not been successful or are not appropriate for you, your GP may recommend an intravenous iron infusion. These deliver the iron straight to the bloodstream (intravenous). This is a much quicker method for increasing the level of iron back to normal.

Your safety is paramount and the modern infusions using Ferinject ™ are considered safe to give in general practice.

Dr Brittany Wakefield and Dr Paul Colbrook carry out intravenous (IV) iron infusions. The infusion can take under an hour, with improvement in iron deficiency symptoms often occurring within as little as a fortnight.

Your GP would arrange follow up blood tests after 6-8 weeks to check the effectiveness of the infusion, and the advice about ongoing monitoring

If you are referred for an iron infusion by your GP or specialist, they will retain responsibility for ongoing investigation of your iron deficiency. You will need to bring a referral letter from the GP or specialist and a copy of blood tests with the last 3 months.

Read more about the process of iron infusions here

Book an appointment

Book an Appointment with any of our Reydon Street Medical Centre GPs in Upper Mt Gravatt to discuss your worries about iron deficiency or whether an iron infusion would be appropriate for you.

If you have already been assessed and diagnosed with iron deficiency and wish to consider an iron infusion, please book with Dr Brittany Wakefield or Dr Paul Colbrook.

Fees

Initial consultation – 30 minute appointment $148 (rebate $74.05)

Iron infusion (allow 1 – 1 1/2 Hours) $200 (Rebate $74.05)

During COVID-19 we are only able to provide iron infusion where patients are well and free of symptoms and wear a face mask throughout the process.

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