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Side Effects (Symptoms) and Complications of Iron Deficiency

Describing the side effects, symptoms and complications of the common problem that is iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency is where our bodies tissues are not getting enough oxygen which make them run at their full capacity. I like to think of it like this: I look after my mum who is physically ill and when I first started looking after her I was barely sleeping but in the short term I was still able to look after her because I had my reserves of energy. In the long run however, I just couldn’t do it without a good night’s sleep, and that was because I had no energy stored. Iron is the same. We have reserves of it, but once it’s gone, it’s gone and that’s when we begin to suffer from side effects of iron deficiency.

The purpose of this is to educate you about the effects of iron deficiency and also to tell you about the symptoms of iron deficiency. I am actually iron deficient myself, and have many of the effects that I am about to tell you. I’m not boasting about this or trying to be hypocritical, but to allow people not to get in the state that I am. Low iron levels can be devastating because the effects of such can have such an impact on your life, and not one of them in a good way.

Image by euthman via Flickr

When someone is lacking in iron our bodies suffer the consequences. Most of the side effects of iron deficiency that I am about to tell you have a common denominator and that’s the lack of oxygen getting to it’s required place quick enough. Not one part of the body is invincible, and while people won’t have every side effect, as the deficiency gets worse the grade of symptoms will too.

Would you be surprised if I told you that one third of the worlds population is iron deficient?

Some of the more common and initial side effects of poor iron levels include:

  • Feeling Breathless after exercise. This could literally be walking up the stairs even if prior to becoming iron deficient you were fit. I was the same whereas now I walk up a flight of stairs too quickly and I have to sit down for a while.
  • Feeling Faint. It’s the feeling that if you don’t lie down you will fall down. It’s not very nice at all, and it can occur any time.
  • Palpitations. I’m actually on Propranolol – a beta-blocker now for the palpitations that I used to get as a result. I still get them sometimes but not half as bad. A rapid pulse can also happen.
  • Feeling Tired or lethargic. This is probably one of those that hits me the most to be honest. After a couple of hours I have to lie down, but then I am quite severely deficient at the moment, and having lots of iron.
  • Looking Pale.

Other side effects include the following, although their occurrence varies.

  • Headaches,
  • Feeling weak,
  • Depression
  • Fragile bones that may lead to osteoporosis in the future
  • Poor teeth
  • Poor concentration, low energy and poor memory
  • Leg cramps, particularly at night
  • Dizziness
  • Cravings for non edible things such as dirt, linked to Pica
  • Slow healing time for cuts and wounds
  • Night sweats
  • Disturbances to vision
  • Loss of appetite
  • Acne
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Changes in the way that you taste
  • Sore mouth
  • Tinnitus
  • White marks on nails

As you can tell there are many side effects and ones that vary a fair bit as well. In the long term serious complications can occur such as heart problems, hair loss and proneness to infections.

It’s really important to make sure that you are eating well and eating enough iron. If you think you may be iron deficient then get down to your GP surgery because at first it is very treatable and reversible. As iron levels get lower it can be more difficult to totally reverse it and you may have to be on iron supplement medication for a while. The side effects of iron deficiency can be really bad if not treated well so make sure you know what your iron levels are.

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  1. Interesting about the symptoms of this. Sounds like a bad time.

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