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    Haematinics as Nutritional Supplements

Iron Deficiency

Anaemia is a condition in which the blood cannot carry enough oxygen, either because there is a low number of red blood cells or because each red blood cell is able to carry less oxygen than normal. There are many different types of anaemia with different causes. Iron deficiency is a common cause.


Anaemia due to iron deficiency

Iron is the main component of haemoglobin. Lack of dietary iron is the world's leading nutritional deficiency and the most common cause of anaemia. Other vitamins that are needed for the body to make red blood cells include folate (folic acid) and vitamin B12. A lack of these in the diet can cause anaemia. For more information about these, please see the separate BUPA factsheets on Folate-deficiency anaemia and Vitamin B12-deficiency anaemia.


Causes of iron-deficiency anaemia

A common cause of iron-deficiency anaemia in women is heavy periods (menorrhagia). About 1 in 10 women become anaemic at some time in their life due to heavy periods.

Stomach ulcers, piles, ulcerative colitis (inflammation of the colon) and bowel cancer may cause bleeding in the gut and result in anaemia. Often the bleeding is not obvious because the blood is passed unnoticed in the stools.

Kidney or bladder disease can cause bleeding that can result in anaemia. The blood may be passed unnoticed in the urine.

Some bowel conditions, such as coeliac disease (gluten sensitivity) or chronic diarrhoea, cause poor absorption of foods containing iron.

Low dietary iron can lead to anaemia, although there are many sources of iron, including meat, green vegetables, milk, flour and eggs.

Pregnancy can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia, because the growing baby needs iron and takes its supply from the mother. Iron deficiency is more likely to develop during pregnancy in women whose diet does not contain plenty of iron.

Certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer, can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. In this case adequate iron is present in the diet, but the developing red blood cells in the bone marrow cannot use the iron properly.

Long-term aspirin-taking is associated with iron-deficiency anaemia because it can cause bleeding in the stomach without any symptoms.

Hookworm infection can cause iron-deficiency anaemia, and is the most common cause worldwide. People who live in or travel to tropical countries are at risk of hookworm infection. Hookworms feed off blood inside the intestines.


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