Iron deficiency is common. Iron is an essential mineral for our bodies and when iron levels are too low it can cause anaemia (a deficiency of haemoglobin, the oxygen carrying molecule in our red blood cells).
People can get iron deficiency for many different reasons. It’s important to find the cause of the deficiency, so the cause can be treated as well as the deficiency itself.
What is iron deficiency?
Iron is an essential mineral. All your cells need it to survive. The body can’t make iron, so you need to get it from food.
When there isn’t enough iron stored in your body, you have iron deficiency.
Iron’s main role is in red blood cells, where it helps make a protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood that moves from your lungs to all your cells so they can work properly.
If you have iron deficiency, you may feel tired. You can find it hard to concentrate, and hard to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do.
If your iron levels get so low that you become anaemic, you can get a range of symptoms, including feeling:
- extremely tired
- short of breath
- your heart beating fast or irregularly, or both
- dizzy and light-headed.
Some people need more iron than others. The people who need most iron include children, teenagers, pregnant women and breast feeding women.
Some other groups at risk of iron deficiency include females of menstruating age (girls and women who have periods), vegetarians and vegans, babies fed on cow’s milk, and endurance athletes.
If you think you might have low iron levels, see your doctor. The only reliable way of telling if you are iron deficient is through a blood test. If you are iron deficient, it’s important to find out why you have iron deficiency and what you can do about it.
Last reviewed: March 2017