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What Are the Symptoms of Low Iron Levels?

By M. Rosario
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Iron is an element that is vital to several physiological processes. With low iron levels, the body cannot properly circulate oxygen, which commonly results in dizziness, weakness, and fatigue. Low iron concentration can also lead to unnatural paleness. Furthermore, since iron contributes to the production of structural proteins, a low iron level may cause joint and abdominal pain.

Naturally concentrated in the blood as ferritin, iron is responsible for the color of red blood cells. Blood vessels near the surface of the skin contribute to the appearance of the skin, so any change in iron levels can directly affect a person’s complexion. Consequently, paleness or pallor commonly indicates a low iron level. The eyes may develop a bluish tint, while gums and other parts of the mouth may become lighter.

A number of physiological processes require iron. Enzyme production and synthesis, muscle movement, and oxygen distribution are some of these functions that tend to suffer from low iron levels. For instance, when the production of cytochrome, the enzyme responsible for producing energy, is lowered because of lower than normal iron levels, a person may experience listlessness, low energy, and appetite loss.

Iron is a vital component in oxygen circulation. Insufficient iron levels hamper oxygen distribution, which leads to shortness of breath and dizziness. Similarly, when not enough oxygen is distributed to the muscles, the result may be muscle fatigue, weakness, impaired coordination, and night cramps.

Structural proteins like collagen and elastin help retain the shape and elasticity of organs and connective tissues. The body cannot produce adequate amounts of these proteins when iron levels are low. This leads to symptoms such as joint pain, swelling in the ankles, and abdominal pain. Moreover, low iron levels can also lead to decreased appetite, brittle nails, hair loss, and constipation.

The presence of several of these symptoms can be the result of anemia or other blood deficiencies. One should consider consulting a physician if some of the more serious symptoms continue for an extended period of time. Usually, a simple blood test is enough to diagnose any iron related blood deficiencies.

Women and children are most susceptible to iron deficiency. Women are vulnerable because of blood loss from menstruation. The spike in hormone levels during menstruation may also lead to low iron levels, as iron is normally consumed when hormones are produced. Children, on the other hand, are prone to iron deficiency due to an unhealthy or a dairy rich diet. A dairy rich diet contributes to lower than normal iron levels because dairy products are relatively poor in iron.

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Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Oct 10, 2012

@lighth0se33 – You probably don't like liver, but it is super iron-rich. I imagine you'd rather eat an egg yolk or some shrimp, though. Both of these are good options.

I was anemic last year, and I corrected the deficiency by eating more iron. Some of my favorites were spinach, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, and iron-enriched cereals. I occasionally ate some kale and broccoli for variety.

Also, you can find whole grain breads enriched with iron. A serving of kidney beans or chick peas every now and then is good for you, too.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 10, 2012

What are some foods high in iron, other than meat? Everyone always mentions meat, but I'm really more of a vegetable and fruit eater.

I do eat a bit of fish and chicken now and then, but not at every meal. I've been looking rather pale lately, and I've begun having these terrible cramps in my calves that wake me up in the middle of the night screaming.

What can I eat to increase my iron levels? I've got to get rid of these cramps.

By healthy4life — On Oct 09, 2012

I had the signs of low iron levels a few years ago. I felt weak and tired all the time. I also suffered from constipation, and I just looked and felt generally unwell.

It turned out that I had a thyroid condition that was causing my anemia. I got treated for that, and things got better.

Still, I make it a point to eat more iron-rich foods than I used to consume. I don't ever want to feel as poorly as I did when I was anemic. It was miserable, and I thought something horrible must surely be wrong with me.

By seag47 — On Oct 09, 2012

I did not know that dairy could cause low iron levels in the blood of children! I suppose I should stop letting my child eat so much yogurt and cheese and start feeding her more meat.

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