How do You Know if You Need Iron Supplements?Updated on
Let's discuss the ten core symptoms of low iron.
You Feel Tired All the Time
Feeling tired all the time can be a clear sign that your body might need more iron.
Iron is crucial for producing haemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that helps carry oxygen around your body. When you're low on iron, your body can't make enough healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen efficiently. This results in feeling constantly fatigued, regardless of how much rest you get.
This type of tiredness feels different from just being sleepy after a short night; it's more like a deep, unshakeable exhaustion that doesn't improve with sleep. You might find it hard to concentrate or feel weak and sluggish doing everyday activities that used to be easy.
You Experience Shortness of Breath Even After Mild Activities
If you find yourself getting out of breath doing things like climbing stairs or walking short distances, it could be another indicator that your body is low on iron. This symptom is directly related to your body's ability to carry oxygen to your muscles and organs. When there isn't enough iron to produce haemoglobin, your body struggles to get the necessary oxygen, leading to that feeling of breathlessness.
This shortness of breath can feel particularly alarming because it happens unexpectedly and can make even the simplest activities feel challenging. It's your body's way of signalling that it's not getting enough oxygen-rich blood to meet its needs during physical exertion.
Your Skin Looks Paler Than Usual
A noticeable paleness, particularly on the face, inner lower eyelids, or nails, can be a sign that you're not getting enough iron. This paleness results from reduced haemoglobin levels in your blood, which gives blood its red colour. When there's not enough iron to make haemoglobin, your skin can lose its healthy, rosy glow and appear more washed out or yellowish.
The best way to check for this is by looking at areas with thinner skin, where blood vessels are closer to the surface, such as the gums, the insides of your cheeks, or the lower eyelids. Pull down your lower eyelid and look in the mirror; if the inside lining looks less red than usual and more like a pale pink or even white, this could indicate low iron levels.
This symptom is often more subtle and might be missed or attributed to tiredness or lack of sunlight. However, if you notice a significant change in your complexion along with other symptoms like fatigue or shortness of breath, it's worth investigating further.
You Frequently Suffer from Headaches or Dizziness
Experiencing frequent headaches or bouts of dizziness could be another signal that your body is lacking iron. These symptoms can arise because iron deficiency leads to lower levels of haemoglobin in the blood, meaning your brain may not be getting enough oxygen. When your brain is deprived of oxygen, it can result in headaches, dizziness, or even feelings of lightheadedness.
These symptoms can be particularly disruptive to your daily life, making it difficult to concentrate, work, or even carry out simple tasks.While it might be tempting to dismiss headaches and dizziness as due to stress or dehydration, if these symptoms persist, it's important to consider your iron levels as a possible factor.
Your Heartbeat is Unusually Fast or Irregular
An unusually fast or irregular heartbeat, especially during activities that shouldn't overly exert you, can be a sign of iron deficiency. When your body lacks enough iron to produce haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood decreases. To compensate for the reduced oxygen levels, your heart may need to work harder to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, leading to an increased heart rate or palpitations.
This symptom can be particularly concerning because it's directly related to how well your heart is functioning. You might notice your heart racing or beating irregularly even when you're at rest or doing light activities that you previously managed without any issue. It's your body's way of trying to ensure that enough oxygen gets circulated, despite the shortage of red blood cells caused by iron deficiency.
Heart palpitations can also be accompanied by shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness, making it a combination of symptoms that shouldn't be ignored. If you're experiencing a noticeable change in your heartbeat along with other signs of iron deficiency, it's critical to seek medical advice.
You Have Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition characterized by an irresistible urge to move your legs, typically accompanied by uncomfortable sensations like crawling, itching, or throbbing. These sensations often occur in the evening or during periods of rest and can significantly disrupt sleep. There's a notable link between iron deficiency and Restless Legs Syndrome; low iron levels can affect dopamine pathways in the brain, which are involved in regulating muscle movements and may trigger RLS symptoms.
If you're experiencing these uncomfortable sensations in your legs, especially when trying to relax or sleep, and find relief only through movement, it could be a sign that your body is lacking iron. People with RLS often find it hard to get a good night's sleep, which can exacerbate other symptoms of iron deficiency, such as fatigue and weakness.
Your Nails are Brittle or Spoon-Shaped
Brittle nails or nails that take on a concave, spoon-like shape, a condition known as koilonychia, can be a less common but visible sign of iron deficiency. This peculiar shape occurs when the body doesn't have enough hemoglobin, affecting the nail's growth and health. Instead of growing strong and curved, the nails become thin, brittle, and can easily break or chip. In severe cases of iron deficiency, the nails may start to concave inward, resembling a spoon.
This symptom is not only a cosmetic concern but also a tangible sign of the body's struggle to perform essential functions without adequate iron. The impact on nail health highlights the widespread effects of iron deficiency on various bodily systems, extending beyond the more commonly recognized symptoms like fatigue and pale skin.
You Have Cravings for Non-Food Items (Pica)
Pica is a condition characterized by cravings to eat non-food items, such as dirt, clay, ice, or paper. It's another symptom that may indicate iron deficiency, although it can also be associated with other nutritional deficiencies. The urge to consume non-nutritive substances is not only harmful but also highlights a significant imbalance in the body's nutritional needs. In cases of iron deficiency, these unusual cravings are thought to be the body's way of seeking out missing nutrients, albeit in a misguided fashion.
Experiencing pica can be confusing and distressing. If you find yourself craving or consuming non-food items, it's crucial to address the underlying nutritional deficiency. Iron deficiency can affect the body's normal functioning in various ways, and pica is a sign that the body is seeking to correct a significant imbalance.
Your Hair is Falling Out More Than Normal
Experiencing an increase in hair loss can be distressing and may be a sign of iron deficiency. Hair follicle cells are among the fastest growing cells in the body and require a lot of iron to maintain their growth. When iron levels are low, this can disrupt the growth cycle of hair follicles, leading to increased hair shedding and noticeable hair thinning.
This symptom often goes hand in hand with other signs of iron deficiency, such as fatigue and pale skin, but it can sometimes be more prominent or alarming due to its visible nature. Hair loss due to iron deficiency typically isn't in patches but rather a general thinning across the scalp. It's a reversible condition; once the iron deficiency is treated, normal hair growth usually resumes.
If you're noticing more hair in your brush or shower drain than usual, it's important to consider whether iron deficiency could be the cause. A healthcare professional can perform a blood test to check your iron levels and investigate other potential causes of hair loss.
You Experience Frequent Infections
If you find yourself getting sick more often than usual, it could be a sign that your iron levels are low. Iron plays a vital role in supporting the immune system. Without enough iron, your body's ability to fight off infections can be weakened, making you more susceptible to illnesses. This increased vulnerability to infections can manifest as frequent colds, flu, or other infectious diseases, indicating that your body's defense mechanisms aren't functioning at their best.
This symptom, while less directly connected to iron deficiency in the public's mind, is a critical indicator of your overall health and well-being. The body's immune cells need iron to perform effectively. When iron is scarce, the efficiency of these cells diminishes, and your body becomes less capable of combating pathogens.
Addressing frequent infections due to iron deficiency involves more than just treating the infections themselves. It's about getting to the root of the problem by boosting your iron levels. A balanced diet rich in iron, including both heme (found in animal products) and non-heme (found in plant-based foods) iron sources, is essential. In some cases, iron supplements may be necessary to restore iron levels to a range that supports a healthy immune function.