Iron plays a pivotal role in maintaining the health of your hair, nails, and skin. What makes this trace mineral intriguing is that our bodies lack an internal mechanism to regulate the elimination of iron. This means that just as an iron deficiency can have devastating effects, an excess of iron can also be harmful. Yet, our bodies do possess mechanisms to deprive microbes and pathogens of iron because most pathogens need this mineral to survive. Welcome to this discussion about the major 15 signs you are iron deficient. We’ll explore how the most common nutritional deficiency globally, iron deficiency, can manifest through various signs and symptoms.
15 Signs You Are Iron Deficient
1. Fatigue & lethargy:
One of the hallmark signs of Iron deficiency anemia is lethargy. Patients often feel extremely tired due to a lack of oxygen being effectively transported throughout the body. Hemoglobin and red blood cells can’t efficiently perform their role in oxygen transport. Overexertion and fatigue occur easily in individuals with Iron deficiency anemia. Low oxygen levels can lead to increased effort during physical activities, causing patients to become quickly fatigued.
2. Shortness of Breath:
Iron deficiency anemia can result in shortness of breath during activities that previously posed no challenge. Climbing a hill or stairs might suddenly become a daunting task, leading to breathlessness. The respiratory system’s role in oxygen delivery becomes crucial in this context.
3. Weird Food Cravings:
Unusual cravings for non-food substances like ice, clay, or dirt can indicate IDA.(Pica): A strong craving for iron can lead to unusual eating behaviors, such as geophagia (eating dirt) or pagophagia (eating ice chips). Even pregnant patients might report these cravings, signifying a possible iron deficiency.
4. Increased Heart Rate (Tachycardia):
The body’s response to low oxygen levels includes an increased heart rate (tachycardia) as it tries to compensate by pumping blood faster.
5. Neurological and Mental Health Changes
Neurological changes can occur, affecting concentration and mood. Patients may struggle to concentrate and might exhibit mood swings. Iron deficiency can affect cognitive and intellectual functions.
6. Pallor (Paleness):
One of the most apparent signs of iron deficiency is pallor. Anemia often causes patients to have a pale or “white” face. Due to low iron level, the body diverts blood away from the skin towards more critical organs. While pallor may not be as noticeable in individuals with deeper skin tones, you can observe it in the palms of their hands. In people with deeper skin tones, the palms’ creases have a natural pigment, while the surrounding skin is paler. With iron deficiency, the pigment in the creases fades until it matches the surrounding skin, indicating a potential hemoglobin level less than 7. Checking the oral mucosal membranes and conjunctiva (by pulling down the lower eyelid) can also reveal pallor.
7. Dark Circles:
Dark circles under the eyes are a frequently searched skin concern. While they are not specific to iron deficiency, they can be associated with it. The exact cause of dark circles isn’t entirely clear, but it may be linked to reduced circulation to the skin under the eyes, making pigmentation more visible. Additionally, if the face appears pale due to iron deficiency, the naturally occurring pigmentation under the eyes can stand out more prominently. Many individuals report an improvement in dark circles when their iron levels return to normal.
8. Angular Cheilitis:
Angular cheilitis is a condition characterized by painful cracks at the corners of the mouth, often accompanied by redness and occasional swelling. People with iron deficiency may be more susceptible to this condition because iron plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of epithelial cells. When there’s a breakdown in this process, the corners of the mouth can become vulnerable to angular cheilitis. Additionally, individuals with low iron level may be more prone to candida yeast issues, which can exacerbate the condition. Candida yeast is naturally present in the mouth, but iron deficiency can disrupt the balance, allowing yeast to overgrow, especially in weakened skin areas.
9. Atrophic Glossitis:
Atrophic glossitis involves significant changes in the appearance and sensation of the tongue. The tongue takes on a bright red, shiny, and glossy appearance, and it becomes painful. Iron deficiency can lead to the loss of taste buds on the tongue’s surface. This occurs because iron is vital for the differentiation of epithelial cells. Without adequate iron levels, these cells become atrophied, leading to the development of a smooth, painful tongue. People with atrophic glossitis may find it difficult to tolerate spicy or hot foods and alcohol, making it an uncomfortable experience. Fortunately, this condition typically improves with iron replacement therapy.
10. Skin Itching:
Iron deficiency can manifest as itchiness. Individuals with iron deficiency may experience generalized itchiness all over the body or localized itchiness, particularly in the areas around the genitals and anus. While the exact reasons behind this localized itch in people with iron deficiency are not entirely clear, it’s worth noting that localized itch in the anogenital region can sometimes be a presenting sign of an underlying cancer. Certain cancers, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are known to present with generalized itch. However, it’s essential to emphasize that experiencing itchiness does not automatically imply a cancer diagnosis, but it’s an aspect that should be considered and evaluated by healthcare professionals.
11. Dry Skin:
Dry skin can be a common manifestation of iron deficiency. Adequate oxygen delivery to the skin’s tissues is vital for maintaining healthy and moisturized skin. Iron plays a critical role in the function of enzymes that control the differentiation of the epidermis, contributing to the skin’s integrity. With iron deficiency, the skin’s barrier function may become impaired, making it more vulnerable to water loss and dryness. Dry skin often leads to itching, creating a challenging cycle where dryness and itch feed off each other, exacerbating the condition.
12. Spoon Nails (Koilonychia):
Koilonychia, or spoon nails, is a unique nail condition associated with iron deficiency. In this condition, the nail plates become unusually thin, and the lateral edges evert, giving the nails a concave appearance resembling a tiny spoon. While it’s common in young children and can occur in certain occupational settings, it’s also seen in individuals with iron deficiency. Additionally, iron deficiency can make the nails more brittle, likely due to the combined effects of poor oxygen delivery to the nail cells and iron’s importance in the enzymes involved in cellular division.
13. Increased Susceptibility to Infections:
Iron deficiency can lead to a heightened susceptibility to various skin infections. We’ve already mentioned the increased risk of Cand Iron deficiency anemia yeast infections, including angular cheilitis in the corners of the mouth. However, this vulnerability extends to bacterial skin infections, particularly those caused by Staphylococcus, such as impetigo. Staph infections can also affect hair follicles, resulting in boils. Furthermore, individuals with iron deficiency are more prone to fungal skin infections like ringworm. This increased susceptibility is likely due to the combined effects of impaired immune function and compromised skin barrier, creating a favorable environment for microorganism colonization. Glossitis is a distinct symptom of iron deficiency, where the tongue appears red, inflamed, and smooth in texture. This change in tongue appearance is a consequence of reduced oxygen supply.
14. Dry, Brittle Hair:
Iron deficiency can impact hair health, making it more prone to dryness and breakage. Healthy, shiny hair relies on proper oxygen and nutrient delivery to the hair follicles for growth. A nutritional deficiency, such as iron deficiency, can lead to lackluster, brittle, and easily breakable hair. Nutrient deficiencies affect the overall health of the hair, causing it to become fragile and prone to damage.
15. Hair Loss:
Hair loss is a well-documented consequence of iron deficiency. Patients experiencing hair loss often undergo iron level checks, and a significant number of them are found to have low iron levels. The link between iron deficiency and hair loss likely stems from the fact that the hair matrix, where hair cells are produced, contains some of the body’s most rapidly dividing cells. Iron plays a vital role in cellular division and DNA replication. For example, the enzyme ribonucleotide reductase, essential for DNA replication, requires iron to function. Therfore, it’s not surprising that a deficiency in iron can lead to hair loss.
Iron deficiency can lead to diffuse hair thinning, which means hair becomes noticeably thinner across the scalp. However, its influence on hair health goes beyond just diffuse thinning. It may also interact with androgenetic alopecia, a common pattern of hair loss affecting both men and women. Androgenetic alopecia, often referred to as male or female pattern baldness, is influenced by genetic and hormonal factors.
Iron deficiency can exacerbate androgenetic alopecia or even unmask an underlying tendency toward this condition. The stress on the hair matrix cells caused by low iron levels may contribute to this connection. While we have not unraveled the complete picture of why this happens, we do know that addressing the iron deficiency often leads to improvements in hair loss, albeit gradually.
Iron Deficiency Test and Measure
Interpreting Hemoglobin (Hb) Levels
the symptoms of iron deficiency may vary according to the level of the deficiency, and it is recommended to go for a Complete Blood Count (CBC) test to check the hemoglobin (HB) levels and confirm the diagnosis. A Complete Blood Count (CBC) is a valuable diagnostic tool for assessing a range of blood-related conditions, including iron deficiency. Hemoglobin, a crucial component of red blood cells, plays a central role in transporting oxygen from the lungs to various tissues throughout the body. Monitoring hemoglobin levels can offer important insights into the extent of iron deficiency and its impact on overall health.
Here’s how to interpret hemoglobin levels:
Normal Hemoglobin Levels: Typically, a normal range of hemoglobin levels in adults can vary slightly depending on age, sex, and other factors. However, a general guideline for normal hemoglobin levels is:
- For adult men: 13.8 to 17.2 grams per deciliter (g/dL).
- For adult women: 12.1 to 15.1 g/dL.
It’s essential to understand that “normal” ranges can vary between different laboratories, so it’s crucial to consider the reference range provided by the specific lab conducting the tests.
In conclusion, recognizing the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency and its impact on various aspects of our health, including the skin, hair, and nails, is essential for maintaining overall well-being. Addressing nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, can lead to significant improvements in these areas, allowing individuals to enjoy healthier and more vibrant lives. If you have concerns about your iron levels or any other nutritional issues, consulting a healthcare professional can provide valuable guidance and support.
- Can Iron Deficiency Cause Weight Gain?
Iron deficiency is more commonly associated with symptoms such as fatigue, pallor, hair loss, brittle nails, and other health issues, as discussed in the provided information. It is not typically linked to weight gain. In fact, iron deficiency may lead to weight loss in some cases due to its effects on overall health, energy levels, and nutrient absorption. However, weight changes can be influenced by various factors, and if you have concerns about your weight or iron levels, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.
- How Do You Know If You Have Low Iron?
Identifying iron deficiency often involves recognizing a combination of signs and symptoms. Common indicators include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Pallor or a pale complexion
- Brittle nails
- Spoon-shaped nails (koilonychia)
- Hair thinning or hair loss
- Angular cheilitis (painful cracks at the corners of the mouth)
- Skin problems, including dryness and itchiness
- Increased susceptibility to skin infections
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Craving non-food items (pica)
- Shortness of breath
- Paleness of oral mucosa and conjunctiva
If you suspect you have low iron based on these symptoms or other concerns, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. They can perform blood tests, such as measuring serum ferritin levels, to confirm iron deficiency.
3. Does eye floaters is due to iron deficiency?
Eye floaters are typically not directly associated with iron deficiency. They are small, often harmless specks or strands that float in your field of vision and are caused by changes in the vitreous, a gel-like substance in the eye. While floaters are generally unrelated to iron levels, it’s crucial to address any sudden or severe changes in vision with an eye care specialist, as they could be related to other eye conditions or health issues. If you suspect you have eye floaters or are experiencing changes in your vision, consult an eye doctor for a proper evaluation and guidance.