Iron Deficiency Anemia Symptoms & Causes

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Contact the Rare Anemias and Iron Disorders Program

What is iron deficiency anemia? 

Iron deficiency anemia is a common blood disorder that occurs when red blood cell counts are low due to a lack of iron. Red blood cells need iron to produce a protein called hemoglobin that helps them carry oxygen from the lungs to all the parts of the body.

What causes iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by: 

  • Diets low in iron: Only 1 mg of iron is absorbed for every 10 to 20 mg of iron-rich food ingested.
  • Body changes: Body changes, such as growth spurts in children and adolescents, require increased iron and red blood cell production.
  • Gastrointestinal tract abnormalities: Any abnormality in the digestive tract limits iron absorption. Difficulty absorbing iron is common after some gastrointestinal surgeries.
  • Blood loss: Blood loss, such as gastrointestinal bleeding or injury, can decrease the amount of iron in a child’s body.

Is iron deficiency anemia common?

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia in otherwise healthy children.

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?

The most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include:

  • pale skin, lips, and hands, or paleness under the eyelids
  • irritability
  • lack of energy or tiring easily
  • increased heart rate
  • sore or swollen tongue
  • enlarged spleen
  • a desire to eat peculiar substances, such as dirt or ice (also called pica)
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