An iron deficiency refers to an abnormally low level of iron in the blood. Symptoms that can indicate a possible iron deficiency include fatigue, dizziness, fast heartbeat, pale skin, shortness of breath, and brittle nails. Tongue swelling, a tingling sensation in the legs, and unusual cravings for non-food items such as ice or clay may be additional signs of this condition. Iron deficiency affects individuals of every age group, though females who have menstrual periods or are pregnant are at an increased risk. The condition can be caused by several underlying conditions such as anemia, endometriosis, kidney failure, or celiac disease and may also result from internal bleeding or the use of blood thinners. The treatment methods detailed below may help individuals recover from an iron deficiency.
Iron supplements are available over the counter, though individuals must speak with a pharmacist for access in most cases, and patients should work with their doctors to set an appropriate dose for their needs. Typically, daily dosages of one to two hundred milligrams are recommended. Doses should be spread throughout the day rather than being taken all at once for maximum absorption. Some extended-release tablets are available, and these can be taken once per day. Iron supplements should not be taken with caffeine, calcium, antacids, or milk and other dairy products, as these can reduce absorption levels. Doctors often encourage patients to take iron with foods or drinks that contain vitamin C, including whole oranges or orange juice, or even vitamin C supplements to increase absorption. Side effects of consuming too many iron tablets include dark stools, heartburn, constipation, and upset stomach. To minimize stomach upset, patients can choose to take their iron pills with a meal. Most patients take these supplements for at least six months after their iron levels are normalized.
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