So, we all know about iron deficiency – anemia is one of the most common problems women have once they hit puberty. We know about supplements, we know about tonics, we know all about the greens that’ll boost iron in our bodies. We also know about the usual signs of deficiency – fatigue, pale complexion and dizzy spells. We don’t, however, recognise deficiency in twelve very unusual signs, and it’s important that we do. So check these out and examine yourself for them, just in case you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
1. Mood Swings and Irritability
Iron deficiency hinders the body’s ability to produce certain hormones. This can lead to mood swings, increased feelings of stress, anxiety and irritability – all symptoms which are also frequently attributed to other causes.
2. Lack of Concentration
When the mind and body are deprived of oxygen due to iron deficiency, one of the more subtle problems which may arise is a decline in concentration. Again, this symptom is a fairly common occurrence with a number of other possible causes and therefore is often misdiagnosed.
3. Dry or Cracked Lips
Ferritin proteins also release iron into the skin for cellular regeneration and growth of new cells. For this reason, dry or cracked skin, especially around the lips is another big indicator of a possible iron deficiency.
4. Brittle or Ridged Nails
Just like with skin, iron is necessary for growth of healthy nail tissue. If you notice that your nails have begun to break or crack very easily or if you develop ridges that run the length (not across) of your fingernails, this may also be a sign that your ferritin iron stores are depleted.
5. “Pins and Needles”
You’re probably familiar with the feeling of “pins and needles” that you get when circulation gets cut off to one body part or another. While this can easily result from something as simple as falling asleep with one limb at an odd angle, poor circulation may also be caused by insufficient iron in the blood and the resulting lack of oxygen reaching your extremities. If you frequently experience burning or tingling in your hands or feet with no good explanation, iron deficiency is a possible cause.
6. Swollen or Sore Tongue
Iron deficiency can manifest in the form of glossitis – soreness, inflammation or discoloration of the tongue. If your tongue appears pale or smooth, it could be to lack of hemoglobin in the blood stream – a result of low iron levels.
7. Trouble Chewing or Swallowing
Glossitis caused by iron deficiency can also make it very difficult to chew or swallow food and water, especially if the tongue becomes very swollen toward the back of the throat. In severe cases, this condition may also affect a person’s ability to speak.
8. Muscle Cramps
Red blood cells are not only responsible for delivering oxygen to cells throughout the body. They are also responsible for transporting carbon-dioxide and other metabolic wastes out of these tissues. When red blood cell levels drop due to iron deficiency, so does the body’s capacity to expel waste products which may result in frequent and unexplained muscle cramps.
9. Frequent Infections
Iron plays a key role in a healthy immune system, so lower levels of the mineral can make someone more susceptible to infections. “Red blood cells help to transport oxygen to the spleen, which is one place where infections can be fought off,” Dr. Murr says.
Red blood cells also carry oxygen to the lymph nodes, which house infection-fighting white blood cells. “When someone has an iron deficiency, the white blood cells aren’t being produced as well, and they’re not as strong because they’re not getting enough oxygen, making that person more susceptible to infections,” she says.
10. Restless Legs Syndrome
Some people who have iron deficiency develop restless legs syndrome, a disorder that causes you to have a strong urge to move your legs. The urge often comes with an unpleasant, crawling sensation in the legs that can make it hard to sleep.
People with iron deficiency may develop cravings for non-food substances, such as clay, dirt, or chalk, a condition known as pica.
Murr says scientists have yet to figure out why this happens to people when they do not get enough iron, but submitting to your cravings and eating these substances could be harmful. “Clay, chalk, and dirt would actually interfere with absorption of iron,” she says.
12. Hair Loss
Iron deficiency, especially when it develops into anemia, can cause hair loss. “When hair follicles don’t get enough oxygen, they go into a resting stage, and hair falls out and doesn’t grow back until anemia is improved,” Murr says. It is normal to lose about 100 strands of hair per day. However, if you notice your hair loss is excessive and it is not growing back, this may be a sign of iron deficiency.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and think you may be iron deficient, speak to your doctor. He or she can help you find ways to include more iron-rich foods in your diet and determine whether you need to take iron supplements.