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What is iron?

Iron is a mineral in the human body. It is one of the components of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body.

If you do not have enough iron, your body cannot make hemoglobin, and you may develop anemia, a disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in the blood. When you develop anemia, you are said to be "anemic".

What is anemia?

Anemia is a blood disorder that occurs when there is not enough hemoglobin in a person's blood. Hemoglobin is a substance in the red blood cells that makes it possible for the blood to transport (carry) oxygen through the body. When a person develops anemia, he or she is said to be "anemic."

There are a number of different types of anemia. Some types present only mild health problems, while others are much more severe. Each type of anemia results from one of these factors:

  • The body cannot make enough hemoglobin
  • The body makes hemoglobin, but the hemoglobin doesn't work right
  • The body does not make enough red blood cells
  • The body breaks down red blood cells too fast

Who is most likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia?

Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, although the following groups have a higher risk:

  • Women: Blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth can lead to anemia.
  • Children, ages 1 to 2: The body needs more iron during growth spurts.
  • Infants: Infants may get less iron when they are weaned from breast milk or formula to solid food. Iron from solid food is not as easily taken up by the body.
  • People over 65: People over 65 are more likely to have iron-poor diets.
  • People on blood thinners: aspirin, Plavix,® Coumadin,® or heparin.

What causes anemia?

Low levels of iron is the most common cause of anemia. This is known as iron-deficiency anemia, the most common type of anemia. Factors that can reduce the body's iron levels include:

  • Blood loss (caused by ulcers, some cancers, and other conditions; and, in women, during monthly periods)
  • An iron-poor diet
  • An increase in the body's need for iron (for instance, during pregnancy).

Anyone can develop iron-deficiency anemia, although the following groups have a higher risk:

  • women, because of blood loss during monthly periods and childbirth
  • people over 65, who are more likely to have diets that are low in iron
  • people who are on blood thinners such as aspirin, Plavix®, Coumadin®, or heparin
  • people who have kidney failure (especially if they are on dialysis), because they have trouble making red blood cells
  • people who have trouble absorbing iron.

What are the symptoms of anemia?

The major symptoms of anemia include the following: