Monday, November 15, 2010
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Fatigue, headache and irritability are all early signs of iron deficiency. The November issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers iron deficiency and why it is important to determine the underlying cause.
When iron levels are low, production of healthy red blood cells decreases. The red blood cells are formed in the bone marrow, where they gather iron-rich hemoglobin — the component of blood that transports oxygen to the tissues. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin.
If hemoglobin is reduced, the red blood cells carry less oxygen. Resulting symptoms may progress from fatigue to weakness and difficulty exercising due to shortness of breath.
Iron deficiency can be diagnosed with blood tests. Sometimes the causes of iron deficiency are easy to determine, such as a loss of blood associated with heavy menstrual periods, injury or trauma. Internal bleeding also can contribute to iron deficiency. Chronic unrecognized bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract can be related to cancer. A key concern in older adults or those with a family history of colon cancer is determining if colon cancer may be behind the blood loss. Iron deficiency can be one of the first signs of colon cancer. Other possible causes of iron deficiency are celiac disease or Crohn's disease.
Taking iron supplements can increase hemoglobin production and build up iron reserves. Determining what's behind the iron deficiency is crucial to determining the best treatment option.
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