Many of the symptoms related to iron deficiency can be attributed to other causes in today’s often busy lifestyle. However, when there is a collection of specific symptoms, it would be in your best interest to check with your physician and exclude iron deficiency as a cause.
When discussing a possible diagnosis of iron deficiency, I go through a checklist of symptoms (Symptoms Checker) which you can see below. But first, I look for what I consider to be the “triad of symptoms” (chronic fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability); a patient presenting with any one of these three symptoms causes me to suspect iron deficiency.
Triad of Symptoms:
- Chronic fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability or mood swings
Other Symptoms that Suggest Iron Deficiency:
- Insomnia (including restless leg syndrome)
- Generalized weakness
- Tiring quickly
- Pronounced lack of energy
- Trembling (including chills when others do not feel cold)
- Pale skin (gums and inner eyelids)
- Decreased appetite
- Breathlessness with minimal physical exertion (low exercise tolerance)
- Thin and fragile fingernails (may look pale and develop ridges or become concave/spoon shaped)
- Inflamed or smooth tongue, cheeks, lips and gums
- Hair loss or hair that is dull, brittle, or breaks easily
- Pica, a craving to eat “non-food” items (the most common craving is to chew ice but this can also include paper, dirt/soil, and other non-food items)
While children with iron deficiency can often experience the majority of the symptoms mentioned above, it is especially useful to look for the following signs in children: pale skin, fatigue or decrease in physical activity, poor food intake (picky eaters), poor concentration, mood swings, and poor growth/development.
If you (or your child) have some of the symptoms listed above, it is recommended to speak to your doctor regarding the possibility of being iron deficient.
Another checklist I run through is a risk assessment, to determine if the patient is at risk of developing iron deficiency.
Iron Deficiency At-Risk Groups
Adult At-Risk Groups:
- Women with heavy menstrual periods (also known as Menorrhagia)
- Pregnant women (especially during the first and second trimester)
- Vegans or vegetarians
- Individuals whose diet does not include a lot of red meat
- Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease
- Patients with gastrointestinal disorders (including Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Hypermotility, or loss of the digestive tract related to surgical intervention)
- Patients with Celiac Disease
- Frequent blood donors
- Elderly people (due to malnutrition and malabsorption)
Child At-Risk Groups
- Babies (premature or low birth weight, prolonged breast feeding and/or introduced to whole milk prior to 1 year of age)
- Children who drink 600 mL of milk or more daily
- Children during periods of rapid growth (children aged 9 months – 3 years old and children going through puberty)
- Teenage girls experiencing menstrual periods
- Patients with Celiac Disease
If you (or your child) identify with any of these risk groups and are experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, it is highly recommended to speak with your doctor regarding the possibility of being iron deficient. Even if you fall into one or more of the at-risk groups above but are not symptomatic (or vice versa), it is advisable to speak with your doctor – your doctor may choose to include screening tests for iron deficiency with your annual physical. If iron deficiency is discovered early enough, a change of diet and/or the use of an oral iron supplement may be all that is needed to help you feel better faster.
Content and advice provided on The Iron Maiden is for information purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for a licensed health care provider, who is knowledgeable about an individual’s unique health care needs