Iron-Deficiency Anemia (Adult)

Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues of your body. Anemia is a condition in which you have too few red blood cells. You need iron to make red cells. Anemia makes you feel tired and run down. When anemia becomes severe, your skin becomes pale. You may feel short of breath or have chest pain after physical activity. Other symptoms include:

  • Headaches, especially with physical activity

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Pounding or whooshing in the ears

  • General weakness, drowsiness, or dizziness

  • Brittle nails or hair loss

  • Leg cramps with physical activity

  • Restless legs

  • Urge to eat ice or nonfood items such as paper

Your anemia is caused by not having enough iron in your body. This may be because of:

  • Loss of blood caused by heavy menstrual periods or bleeding from the stomach or intestines.

  • Major surgery or physical trauma

  • Not eating enough foods that contain iron

  • Not being able to absorb iron from the foods you eat

  • Pregnancy

If your blood count is low enough, your healthcare provider may prescribe an iron supplement. It usually takes about 2 to 3 months of treatment with iron supplements to correct anemia. Severe cases of anemia need a blood transfusion to quickly ease symptoms and deliver more oxygen to the cells.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Eat foods high in iron. This will boost the amount of iron stored in your body. It's a natural way to build up the number of blood cells. Good sources of iron include beef, liver, poultry, fish, spinach, and other dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.

  • Don't overexert yourself.

  • Talk with your provider before traveling by air or traveling to high altitudes.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your provider in 2 months or as directed by your provider .It's important to have another red blood cell count test to be sure your anemia is getting better.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Shortness of breath or chest pain

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Vomiting blood or passing red or black-colored stool 

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