Iron deficiency: hard to spot, easy to fix

Article published 4 December 2023

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It tends to be the forgotten medical problem that can make your life a misery unnecessarily: iron deficiency.

ARE you feeling tired all the time? Suffer from dizziness and mental fog a lot?

It may be that your body has an iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can significantly impact physical and mental capacity. In short, it can make your life a misery.

What is iron deficiency?

Also known as anemia, iron deficiency is a common condition both in Australia and around the world, affecting over 1.5 billion people worldwide. It is particularly prevalent in certain population groups: in Australia around 12 per cent of women, and 20 per cent of people over 85 years are anemic.

How to find out if you have iron deficiency

The good news is that iron deficiency can generally be fixed. The trick is to go and have a simple test done as part of an overall routine check-up.

To help diagnose iron-deficiency, your doctor can order a complete blood count (CBC) test.

It’s not just used to diagnose whether the iron levels in your blood are adequate. It is also used to screen for other illnesses, including infections and leukemia. The test extracts a large amount of information from the blood sample you’ve given, including:

  • The number of red blood cells (RBCs), which carry oxygen throughout the body. Too few RBCs may be a sign of anemia or other diseases.
  • How the size of your red blood cells varies. For instance, you’ll probably have greater differences in red blood cell size if you have anemia.
  • Hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Abnormalities can be a sign of anemia.

Often iron deficiency is only addressed when anemia has developed. By recognising the signs early and speaking to your GP, problems can be nipped in the bud.

Awareness survey

Unfortunately, iron deficiency remains overlooked by patients and healthcare professionals as symptoms are sometimes poorly understood.

A new survey commissioned by CSL asked more than a thousand Australian adults about their understanding of iron deficiency. Responses show that, while many Australians have heard of iron deficiency, a significant majority are unaware of what symptoms they should be looking out for.

A quarter of survey respondents had never heard of, or had a limited understanding of, iron deficiency. That’s not so good, but it also means that three-quarters had awareness of iron deficiency.

However, the majority of Australians are unaware of common symptoms related to iron deficiency.

90 per cent did not know that unusual food cravings such as chewing or eating ice were a symptom.

81 per cent of respondents did not identify shortness of breath as a symptom of iron deficiency.

87 per cent did not know that loss of libido could be caused by iron deficiency.

57 per cent did not know that dizziness was a symptom.

All up, only 1 per cent of people were aware of all the common iron deficiency symptoms, which are:

  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pale skin

How not to get iron deficiency in the first place

It is also always a good idea to help the body keep iron levels where they need to be by maintaining a healthy diet that includes good sources of iron and vitamin C.

Good sources of iron include beans, dried fruits, eggs, lean red meat, salmon, iron-fortified breads and cereals, peas, tofu, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges, strawberries, and tomatoes help your body absorb iron.

The recommended daily iron intake for people over 50 is 8 milligrams.

Also read:
Spaghetti is good for you!
Joint pain relief comes with liver risk
Sorry folks, it turns out good cholesterol is no good after all
Why artificial sweeteners are good for you
The table salt that adds years to your life


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