What is iron deficiency?
Iron deficiency is one of the commonest health problems worldwide and has a major impact on global health and economics. Iron is absorbed through the gut and is taken into the red cells. Low iron makes you anaemic – that is, people have a low haemoglobin or blood count. This can make people tired and less able to work. If severe the person may need a blood transfusion. Half of all women of child bearing age in the U.K. do not have iron stores.
How is it treated?
Most people who are iron deficient will be given a course of iron tablets. These can be effective if taken regularly, though many people cannot tolerate them due to the side effects of constipation or diarrhoea. Sometimes there is a real urgency to get the iron into the person e.g. if an operation is imminent or they are heavily pregnant. In these cases it may be helpful to consider the use of intravenous iron, that is an infusion of specially manufacture iron through a vein. There are a variety of different preparations now available, some given as a one off dose and some given as a series of doses.
Why treat iron deficiency
If you are iron deficient at times when the body needs extra iron e.g. during pregnancy or the period surrounding an operation known as the perioperative period, then being iron deficient makes it more likely that you will need a blood transfusion and it increases the likelihood of problems occurring. Iron deficiency is not good for the brain, in particular the developing brain. Anaemia resulting from iron deficiency leads to tiredness, lethargy and being much less productive and active.