Iron is a vital trace mineral that your body needs to function normally. Being too low on iron makes it difficult for your body to produce and maintain enough healthy red blood cells in the bloodstream, which is essential in providing energy for everyday activities. While it’s rare to lose a life to an iron deficiency, it may become severe enough to interfere with daily life if left untreated.
The symptoms of an iron deficiency might be hard to spot. Nonetheless, a combination of some of these 10 signs might mean it’s time for you to take a blood test to see if you should start rebuilding your iron supply.
1. You’re Pale
When your body is low on iron, you may end up looking washed out. Pale skin and color loss on the inside of the lower eyelids are other common signs of iron deficiency. You need iron to make hemoglobin, a red protein in red blood cells that gives your blood its red color and your skin its healthy, rosy tone. Low levels of iron usually mean low levels of hemoglobin, which can drain the color from your skin. This paleness in people with iron deficiency can appear all over the body, or it can be limited to one area, such as the face, gums, inside of the lips or lower eyelids.
2. Your Tongue Looks Weird
Sometimes just looking inside or around your mouth can give you a clue whether you are suffering from iron deficiency. Low hemoglobin in iron deficiency can cause the tongue to become pale. Besides sapping the color out of your tongue, low iron counts can reduce levels of myoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that supports the muscle that makes up the tongue. Low levels of myoglobin can cause your tongue to become sore, swollen, and strangely smooth. Iron deficiency can also cause dry mouth, sore red cracks at the corners of the mouth, or mouth ulcers.
3. Your Hair Is Falling Out
Everyone sheds some hair, and as you may know, seeing a few stray strands on your hairbrush is no big deal. In fact, most people shed between 50 and 100 hairs every day, which is part of the normal hair life cycle. If you are suddenly noticing much more hair loss than normal, though, this could be a sign that your body is low on iron. Vegetarians and women who have heavy periods are more likely to experience excessive hair shedding due to low iron. Iron supplements or changes in diet that include more iron-rich foods can help you keep your hair.
4. Your Fingernails Are Fragile
Cracking or splitting of fingernails is more prevalent in women, but men can experience the problem, too. This condition is usually associated with iron deficiency. Nails are made up of a substance called keratin, which includes layers of protein that protect the soft tissues of the nail beds. The nails require oxygen to remain healthy, and oxygen transport is hindered when the body isn’t producing enough hemoglobin due to iron deficiency. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may need to take iron supplements or simply include more iron-rich foods in your diet. Sardines, shellfish, fortified cereals, and liver are all excellent sources of this mineral. If you live an active lifestyle, you may also want to increase your protein intake so that your nails can withstand more friction and trauma.
5. You’re Short of Breath
Shortness of breath is a common symptom of iron deficiency. If you find yourself out of breath doing normal, daily tasks that you used to find easy, iron deficiency could be to blame. Hemoglobin enables your red blood cells to transport oxygen around the body. When hemoglobin is low in your body because of iron deficiency, oxygen levels will also be low. As a result, your muscles and tissues won’t get enough oxygen to perform normal activities, such as walking and climbing stairs. Your breathing rate will also increase as your body tries to get more oxygen.
6. You Have Headaches
Iron deficiency may cause headaches. In iron deficiency, low levels of hemoglobin in red blood cells mean that not enough oxygen can reach every organ where oxygen is needed. So, your body prioritizes supplying oxygen to your brain over everything else. Still, your brain gets less oxygen than it should ideally. According to the National Headache Foundation, any lowering of oxygen levels reaching the brain can cause blood vessels to swell and create pressure in the area, triggering headaches. This symptom is considered less common than others and is often accompanied by lightheadedness or dizziness.
7. Your Hands and Feet Are Always Cold.
Circulation issues can be a sign of an iron deficiency. Poor circulation means blood will have a harder time traveling to the distal extremities, such as fingers and toes. Blood also carries heat from your core to your extremities, and any compromise in speed or quantity of blood flow will cause these parts of the body to feel colder than other parts. You can check this yourself by comparing the temperature of your fingers and toes to the arms and legs or the rest of the body. Normally, the temperature should be the same in both the distal extremities and the body.
8. Your Legs Are Jumpy
People with iron deficiency have a higher chance of experiencing so-called restless leg syndrome (RLS), a disorder of the nervous system that causes the overwhelming urge to move your legs at rest. It’s often accompanied by pain and strange itchiness. A leg cramp usually strike when you’re asleep, meaning that can badly lower your sleep quality. But it can also occur while you’re lying awake in bed doing nothing. The exact causes of RLS are not fully understood. However, up to 25 pecent of people with restless leg syndrome are thought to be low on iron, and the lower the iron levels, the worse the symptoms.
9. Your Heart Is Pounding
In cases of iron deficiency, low levels of hemoglobin make the heart work extra hard to transport oxygen around the body. An overworked heart can end up suffering from irregular heartbeats, enlargement, and even heart failure. Although you would probably have to suffer from iron deficiency anemia for a very long time before the heart situation to become that bad, it’s important to keep your iron levels in check if you know you have heart problems.
10. You’re Tired for No Reason
When your body doesn’t have enough iron, less oxygen will reach your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy. In addition, your heart has to work harder to move more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which makes you extra tired. Since tiredness is often considered a normal part of a stressful modern life, one can’t simply be diagnosed with iron deficiency because of this symptom alone. However, many people with iron deficiency experience low energy alongside weakness, difficulty concentrating, or losing interest in things that used to excite them.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.