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Five common signs you might have iron deficiency anaemia

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Deborah Wyatt

Director, talkhealth

Iron deficiency anaemia is the most common type of anaemia and is caused by a lack of iron in your blood.

There are many potential causes for iron deficiency anaemia, including blood loss due to menstruation, your diet lacking iron, inflammatory bowel disease and pregnancy.

What are signs of iron deficiency anaemia?

1 – You’re more tired than usual

If you find you are suddenly feeling very fatigued, this could be a tell-tale sign of iron deficiency. This is one of the most documented symptoms and affects over half of those who are iron-deficient.

Your body needs iron to create haemoglobin, a complex protein that contains iron molecules. This is found in red blood cells and helps oxygen reach your tissue muscles.

Exhaustion happens

When you don’t have enough iron, your heart must work much harder to pump more oxygen and blood around your body, which is why you will be feeling more tired.

If you find yourself feeling less productive, weak and irritable, it might be time to check if your iron levels.

2 – You have dry hair & brittle nails

When your body lacks iron, it gives any limited oxygen available to important organs like your heart. This is when your hair and nails start to dry out, due to a lack of oxygen.

If you notice your nails are becoming significantly cracked or you start to experience clumps of hair falling out, it is time to look at ways to boost your iron levels.

3 – You’re experiencing heart palpations and a shortness of breath

Do you feel like your heartbeat is loud and is noticeable? Are you finding you’re out of breath completing everyday tasks like walking or going up steps?

These could both be signs of iron deficiency too. If your heart rate continues to beat irregularly after you’ve tried to increase your iron levels, speak to your doctor, as it could be a sign of something worse.

4 – You look pale

Paleness is another common symptom of iron deficiency anaemia. Again, this is due to a lack of haemoglobin.

Red blood cells give your skin that healthy, rosy glow, which you lose if you’re lacking iron. It’s not just your face in general that will show signs of iron deficiency.

You can see this in places like your lower eyelids, gums and lips too, which also lose their colour due to a lack of iron.

5 – You have cold hands and feet

Another sign you may be experiencing iron deficiency anaemia is if you have cold hands and feet.

This isn’t always necessarily cause for alarm, as many people tend to have cold hands and feet, but coupled with other symptoms, it might mean your body is low in iron and therefore struggling to pump oxygen to your hands and feet, which makes them cold.

Other signs include:

  • Headaches and feeling dizzy
  • Sore or swollen mouth and tongue
  • Feeling very anxious
  • Catching more infections
  • Random cravings for certain foods

What to do about anaemia

If you’re concerned, there are some easy options to increase your iron levels. Firstly, speak to your GP and they can help you come up with a solution.

This may include taking an iron supplement and eating more iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, dark green, leafy vegetables and seeds and nuts.

If your symptoms persist, your doctor can take blood tests and help you further.

If you’re experiencing any symptoms above, we have a free well-being support programme, which offers expert guidance on a range of health topics, including sleep, heart, diet and more.

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