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Do you have pallor? It could be a sign of iron deficiency anaemia – other symptoms to spot

Iron is a major component of haemoglobin, a type of protein in red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body. If you become low in iron, this is called a deficiency, one which can lead to iron deficiency anaemia. Symptoms of the condition are varied and require immediate attention.

One of those symptoms according to NICE (National Insititute for Health and Care Excellence) is pallor, also known as pale skin, and it is one of the most common signs of iron deficiency anaemia.

Other signs include:
• Tiredness and lack of energy
• Shortness of breath
• Noticeable heartbeats, also known as heart palpitations.

Alongside these common symptoms, iron deficiency anaemia can cause a range of other ailments.

One example of this is cephalalgia, the medical term for a headache.

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Iron deficiency anaemia is more likely to occur in pregnant women due to blood loss. However, there are some symptoms which are not usually connected to pregnancy.

Examples which can arise are:
• Tinnitus
• Food tasting strange
• Feeling itchy
• Sore tongue
• Hair loss
• Wanting to eat non-food items
• Finding it hard to swallow
• Painful ulcers in the corners of the mouth
• Spoon-shaped nails
• Restless legs syndrome.

How iron deficiency anaemia is diagnosed

Iron deficiency anaemia is diagnosed through a blood test which your GP will conduct if you believe you have the condition.

The NHS writes: “The GP will ask you about your lifestyle and medical history. If the reason for the anaemia is not clear, they might order some tests to find out what might be causing the symptoms.”

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How it is treated

Treatment will depend on the cause of the deficiency. In some cases iron tablets will be prescribed to boost levels.

The NHS says: “If the blood test shows your red blood cell count is low, iron tablets will be recommended to replace the iron that’s missing from your body.

“You’ll need to take them for about 6 months. Drinking orange juice after you’ve taken a tablet may help your body absorb the iron.”

In common with other medications, these tablets can cause side effects such as constipation, black poo, tummy pain, feeling sick, and heartburn.

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As well as taking tablets, there are lifestyle changes one can make to ensure iron levels are boosted through non-medicinal means.

The American Red Cross has a list of iron rich foods which can be consumed. These include beef, lamb, ham, and turkey alongside tofu, beans, and lentils.

Although there are substances one should eat more of, there are also some to avoid.

Tea, coffee, milk, dairy, and foods with high levels of phytic acid should be avoided.

Foods with high levels of this acid, such as wholegrain cereals, can stop the body from absorbing iron from food and iron tablets.

Causes of an iron deficiency

An iron deficiency can be caused by pregnancy and heavy periods in women. The NHS adds: “For men and for women whose periods have stopped, bleeding in the stomach and intestines is the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia.”

This bleeding can have a number of causes, such as:
• Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
• Stomach ulcers
• Inflammation of the bowel or food pipe
• Piles
• Bowel or stomach cancer.

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