Iron-deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia that occurs if you do not have enough iron in your body. People with mild or moderate iron-deficiency anemia may not have any signs or symptoms. More severe iron-deficiency anemia may cause fatigue or tiredness, shortness of breath, or chest pain.
If your doctor diagnoses you with iron-deficiency anemia, your treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Your doctor may recommend healthy eating changes, iron supplements, intravenous iron therapy for mild to moderate iron-deficiency anemia, or red blood cell transfusion for severe iron-deficiency anemia. You may need to address the cause of your iron deficiency, such as any underlying bleeding. If undiagnosed or untreated, iron-deficiency anemia can cause serious complications, including heart failure and development delays in children.
Treatment for iron-deficiency anemia will depend on its cause and severity. Treatments may include iron supplements, procedures, surgery, and dietary changes. Severe iron-deficiency anemia may require intravenous (IV) iron therapy or a blood transfusion.
Your doctor may recommend that you take iron supplements, also called iron pills or oral iron, by mouth once or several times a day to increase the iron in your body. This is the most common treatment for iron deficiency. It generally takes three to six months to replenish your iron stores.
Iron supplements are sometimes recommended by your doctor during pregnancy. If your condition is caused by certain rare genetic conditions, such as a TMRPSS6 gene mutation, you may not respond to oral iron supplements.
Iron supplements are generally not recommended for people who do not have iron-deficiency anemia. This is because too much iron can damage your organs.
Do not stop taking your prescribed iron supplements without first talking to your doctor. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing side effects such as a bad metallic taste, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or upset stomach. Your doctor may be able to recommend options such as taking your supplements with food, lowering the dose, trying a different type of iron supplement, or receiving intravenous (IV) iron.
If iron supplements alone are not able to replenish the levels of iron in your body, your doctor may recommend a procedure, including:
- Iron therapy, or intravenous (IV) iron. This is sometimes used to deliver iron through a blood vessel to increase iron levels in the blood. One benefit of IV iron is that it often takes only one or a few sessions to replenish the amount of iron in your body. People with severe iron-deficiency anemia or who have chronic conditions such as kidney disease or celiac disease may be more likely to receive IV iron. You may experience vomiting, headache, or other side effects right after the IV iron, but these usually go away within a day or two.
- Red blood cell transfusions. These may be used for people with severe iron-deficiency anemia to quickly increase the amount of red blood cells and iron in the blood. Your doctor may recommend this if you have serious complications of iron-deficiency anemia, such as chest pain.
- Surgery, upper endoscopy or colonoscopy, to stop bleeding.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes
To help you meet your daily recommended iron levels, your doctor may recommend that you:
- Adopt healthy lifestyle changes such as heart-healthy eating patterns.
- Increase your daily intake of iron-rich foods to help treat your iron-deficiency anemia. It is important to know that increasing your intake of iron may not be enough to replace the iron your body normally stores but has used up.
- Increase your intake of vitamin C to help your body absorb iron.
- Avoid drinking black tea, which reduces iron absorption.
If you have chronic kidney disease and iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend. These medicines stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. ESAs are usually used with iron therapy or IV iron, or when iron therapy alone is not enough.
Follow your Treatment Plan
Do not stop taking your prescribed iron supplements without first talking to your doctor. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing side effects such as a bad metallic taste, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or upset stomach. Your doctor may be able to recommend options such as taking your supplement with food, lowering the dose, trying a different type of iron supplement, or receiving intravenous (IV) iron.
Monitor your Condition
You may have fatigue and other symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia until your iron levels return to normal, which can take months. Tell your doctor if you have any new symptoms or if your symptoms get worse, especially if you experience chest pain or feel like your heart is beating irregularly.
Tell any doctors you see for other conditions that you have iron-deficiency anemia. Iron-deficiency anemia can make other conditions, such as HIV, worse or harder to treat. Tell your doctor what medicines you take, even over-the-counter medicines or other supplements. Iron supplements can change how certain medicines work.
Your doctor may suggest check-ups to make sure your iron and hemoglobin levels are improving and staying at healthy levels. Your doctor may:
- Ask about your signs and symptoms, including whether you have any new or worsening symptoms.
- Repeat blood tests, such as complete blood count and iron studies.
Prevent Complications over your Lifetime
To prevent complications from iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor may recommend heart-healthy eating and choosing iron-rich foods, especially during certain stages of life when more iron is needed, such as childhood and pregnancy. Good sources of iron are meat, poultry, fish, and iron-fortified foods that have iron added.
Vegetarian diets can provide enough iron if you choose nonmeat sources of iron, including iron-fortified breads and cereals, beans, tofu, dried fruits, and spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables. You can also take an iron supplement.
Follow your doctor’s recommendations and treatments to control any conditions that lead to iron-deficiency anemia to prevent complications such as abnormal heart rhythms and depression.