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Anemia: When Low Iron Is the Cause

What is anemia?

Anemia occurs when your blood doesn’t have enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. A common cause of anemia is not having enough iron. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin.

What can cause low iron levels?

A number of things can cause your body to be low in iron:

Lack of iron in the diet. This is mostly a problem for children, young women and people who are vegetarian. Children who drink a lot of milk but don’t eat iron-rich foods, young women who follow “fad” diets, and people who don’t eat meat may be at risk for iron deficiency.

Growth spurts. Children under age 3 are growing so fast that their bodies may have a hard time keeping up with the amount of iron they need.

Pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or who are breast feeding need 2½ times as much iron as men. That’s why pregnant women are often tested for anemia and why they need to eat more iron-rich foods or take a daily iron pill.

Blood loss. This is a common reason for iron deficiency anemia in adults. Heavy periods may cause anemia. Blood loss can also be caused by internal bleeding, usually in the digestive tract. A stomach ulcer, ulcerative colitis, cancer, or taking aspirin or similar medicine for a long time can cause bleeding in your stomach or intestines. That’s why it’s important to find the reason for a low iron level.

Symptoms of anemia

Often, no symptoms


Feeling tired

Unusual shortness of breath during exercise

Fast heartbeat

Cold hands and feet

Brittle nails


Dizziness or lightheadedness

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