Iron deficiency anemia is a common type of anemia — a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. As the name implies, iron deficiency anemia is due to insufficient iron. Without enough iron, your body can’t produce enough of a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen (hemoglobin). As a result, iron deficiency anemia may leave you tired and short of breath.
Iron-Rich Foods for Anemia
- Red meat
- Pork and poultry
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Breads and pastas
- Leafy greens
Initially, iron deficiency anemia can be so mild that it goes unnoticed. But as the body becomes more deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the signs and symptoms intensify.
Iron deficiency anemia signs and symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Pale skin
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath
- Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Cold hands and feet
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
- Brittle nails
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt, or starch
- Poor appetite, especially in infants and children with iron deficiency anemia
When to see a doctor
If you or your child develops signs and symptoms that suggest iron deficiency anemia, see your doctor. Iron deficiency anemia isn’t something to self-diagnose or treat. So see your doctor for a diagnosis rather than taking iron supplements on your own. Overloading the body with iron can be dangerous because excess iron accumulation can damage your liver and cause other complications.
Preventing iron deficiency anemia in infants
To prevent iron deficiency anemia in infants, feed your baby breast milk or iron-fortified formula for the first year. Cow’s milk isn’t a good source of iron for babies and isn’t recommended for infants under 1 year. After age 6 months, start feeding your baby iron-fortified cereals or pureed meats at least twice a day to boost iron intake. After one year, be sure children don’t drink more than 20 ounces (591 milliliters) of milk a day. Too much milk often takes the place of other foods, including those that are rich in iron.