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We expect to feel less energetic the older we get and perhaps to tire faster too. But if you feel fatigued or drained more often than you think you should, please do not simply assume the changes are a normal part of aging.  Especially if you are also short of breath at times… experience dizzy spells… have cold hands and feet… your heart tends to race… or you have any of the other symptoms listed below.

These symptoms can be signs of a condition called iron-deficiency anemia, a disorder that can easily sneak up on people because of the fact that its symptoms tend to be mild at first and may be overlooked. Unfortunately, if anemia is allowed to progress untreated for too long, the results can cause significant, even dangerous, health problems… especially as we get older.

Anemia occurs when the body does not have enough red blood cells or red blood cells are not functioning properly and there is not enough oxygen circulating through the body. Often, this happens because the body does not have enough iron available. Without enough iron, red blood cells become low in hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that attaches to oxygen and carries it from the lungs to tissues in the rest of the body.

When your body does not have enough oxygen circulating through it, it is impossible to create enough energy to keep functioning at a normal level. Some of your body’s crucial organs, like your heart and lungs, will have to work harder to try to compensate for the loss of oxygen while other non-essential parts, like your skin, hands, and feet, will just have to make do and manage with a limited flow of oxygen

If anemia is not treated, major organs in the body can be damaged due to lack of oxygen. According to research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, anemia also has been linked to a higher risk of death in older adults who have suffered a stroke.

A number of different factors can contribute to the onset of iron-deficiency anemia. Of course, eating a diet that is low in iron can be an issue, but diet is not the only contributor. There are other reasons for iron deficiencies.

Certain medical conditions can at times lead to low iron and anemia. Some ailments, like inflammatory bowel disease, may reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron, which can result in an iron-deficiency. Chronic illnesses, like cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease, can interfere with the production of red blood cells. Conditions that cause blood loss, such as bleeding ulcers or urinary tract bleeding, can eventually lead to the development of iron-deficiency anemia. Rheumatoid arthritis also has been linked to anemia.

In fact, early-stage anemia is often discovered by doctors investigating another illness. In some instances, anemia that has been caused by another medical condition will improve when the other condition is treated effectively.

Treating anemia as a condition itself usually involves replenishing iron stores in the body through changes in diet as well as by adding iron supplements. Increasing the amount of iron consumed in foods often is not sufficient enough to correct the condition on its own. Iron supplementation may be necessary until the iron deficiency has improved.

If you experience symptoms that could be signs of anemia, see you doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to determine if you are anemic through a simple a blood test. Do not try to treat yourself for anemia without first speaking with your doctor. Some people should not take iron supplements for various health-related reasons. Your doctor will know what is best for you.

Common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia 

Here are some of the more common symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia and a resulting decline in oxygen circulation. They may or may not mean you have the condition, but your doctor will be able to provide a diagnosis.​

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Headache and/or pounding in ears
  • Loss of color in skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Inability to concentrate​
  • Brittle nails (fingers and toes)

Watch Out for Iron-Deficiency Anemia

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