Health Guide: Iron Deficiency Signs and Symptoms

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition where the body lacks enough mineral iron. When this happens, the body is unable to produce healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to the tissues. It is the most common type of anemia, and it can develop in anyone. 

At first, the symptoms of iron deficiency anemia can be mild, and most people may not even realize that they have this condition. The American Society of Hematology state that most people are unaware that they have a mild iron deficiency. They only come to know about it when a routine blood test is done.

The severity of the symptoms for people with iron deficiency anemia usually varies with how fast the anemia develops. The symptoms can also depend on the overall health of a person. While some symptoms like lack of energy can be noticed almost immediately, others like spoon-shaped fingernails can take a while to develop. The signs and symptoms may also not be noticeable during mild and moderate iron deficiency.

The signs and symptoms of iron deficiency may include:

1. Unusual Tiredness

One of the most common symptoms of severe iron deficiency is tiredness or weakness. When you are iron deficient, your body is not able to make the hemoglobin protein, which aids the red blood cells to carry oxygen in your body. As a result, your muscles and tissues will lack energy because of insufficient oxygen, and this will prompt your heart to work harder to ensure that oxygen-rich blood is carried around your body. 

As a result, you will feel fatigued and lack the energy to carry out normal activities. It is not the usual fatigue that comes from stress or burning the midnight oil. According to Dr. Dana Cohen, who is an integrative physician in New York, people who are anemic say that they are bone tired. 

Also, patients with iron deficiency may find it hard to concentrate and be productive at work. Therefore, if fatigue and tiredness are affecting your quality of life, it is best to see a doctor for a diagnosis. 

Anemia symptoms

2. Shortness of Breath

Another symptom of iron deficiency is shortness of breath. If you find it hard to catch your breath when doing something you are used to, it’s a good sign that you are iron-deficiency anemic. As stated above, your body requires iron to make hemoglobin, which transports oxygen around your body. When there is insufficient production of hemoglobin, the oxygen levels will reduce, and your muscles and tissue won’t get the right amount of oxygen. 

Your body will then try to acquire more oxygen, and this will increase your breathing rate. As a result, you will experience shortness of breath even as you try to do normal activities like walking, lifting, and climbing stairs. You could also be iron deficient when you experience chest pain when you do activities that you used to do with ease.

3. Rapid Heartbeat

Similarly, heart palpitation could be a sign that one is suffering from severe iron-deficiency anemia. Heart palpitations are noticeable or irregular heartbeats that are brought about by the extra work that your heart has to do to transport oxygen during low levels of hemoglobin. 

Although this symptom is not that common, it could be a sign that you are iron deficient. When it gets too pronounced, the patient could suffer a heart murmur, enlarged heart, or even heart failure.

4. Dry and Damaged Skin and Hair

Iron deficiency can cause the skin and hair to receive less oxygen. This is because the available oxygen is transported to more vital organs and tissues so that your body can function. When this happens, the skin and hair are deprived of oxygen, and they can become dry, weak, and damaged. 

Also, hair loss has been linked to iron deficiency. Based on a study done by the American Academy of Dermatology, about 80 million people experience hereditary hair loss. It is also very typical for hair to shed off during brushing or washing. However, if you notice that you are losing more hair or your hair is thinning, it could signal that you have iron-deficiency anemia. So be sure to check with your doctor before it gets further.

5. Paleness

Having pale skin is another common sign of iron deficiency. The whiteness occurs because there is no enough hemoglobin in the red cells, which gives the red color to blood. So lack of iron reduces hemoglobin, and the blood becomes less red. This results in less healthy skin in people suffering from moderate to severe iron deficiency anemia. Paleness is the first thing that doctors look out for a symptom of iron deficiency anemia. 

The paleness can be general and appear on all parts of the body, or it can be limited to specific areas such as the face, nails, and gums as well as inside the lips. People with moderate to severe iron deficiency can also have a pale coloring on the lower inner eyelids. Ideally, the inside of the inner lower eyelid is supposed to have a vibrant red color. 

However, iron deficiency can make it have a pale yellow or pink color. If you suspect that you have iron deficiency anemia, pull down your lower eyelid, and examine the mucous membrane of your eyes. Also, it is a good sign that you lack sufficient red blood cells if you notice paleness on your face, underneath the nail beds and palm of your hands. 

6. Headaches

If you have recurrent problems and nothing else seems to be the cause, it might be iron deficiency anemia. This symptom is often accompanied by dizziness and is caused by a lack of enough oxygen reaching the brain. When this happens, the blood vessels in the brain tend to swell up, and this creates pressure. The person may begin to experience headaches, lightheadedness, migraines, or dizziness.

7. Anxiety

Believe it or not, feeling anxious could be a sign that you lack adequate iron in your body. When you don’t have enough oxygen in your muscles and tissue, there is a high chance that you may feel anxious. Luckily, the feelings of anxiety may alleviate when your body begins to get the right amount of iron levels.

8. Restless Legs

Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes an itchy sensation in the legs and increases the urge to move your legs. Because of the irrepressible urge to want to move, people with this condition may find it hard to sleep at night.

Although the causes of this syndrome are not very specific, it has been linked to a lack of iron in the body. It is estimated that 25% of people with restless leg syndrome suffer from iron deficiency anemia. It is also believed that the symptoms of this syndrome tend to worsen when the iron levels go down. 

9. Swelling of Tongue and Mouth

In some cases, having sores in the tongue and mouth could be an indication of iron deficiency anemia. Low count of hemoglobin due to lack of iron can make the tongue to become pale. Similarly, reduced levels of myoglobin, protein in red blood cells that offer support to the muscles, can cause the tongue to become sore, swollen, and smooth.

Additionally, a lack of iron in the body can make the mouth dry and have painful cracks. Hence, you could be anemic is you notice painful open sores or cracks on the corners on your mouth.

10. Higher Pregnancy Risks

Iron deficiency is common in women who are pregnant as the body requires additional iron for the baby. The iron stores get depleted as the baby, and the placenta demands them.

Due to the lack of dietary iron, pregnant women are a higher risk of developing anemia. They are also at a higher risk of becoming iron deficient because of the increase of water in the body, which is normal during pregnancy.

A sign that pregnant women have iron deficiency anemia is when they give birth to premature or babies with low birth weight. This usually occurs when the anemia is not treated during pregnancy. The condition can, therefore, be prevented in pregnant women when they are given iron supplements during prenatal care.

11. Irregular Bleeding and Heavy Periods

Another common symptom of iron deficiency is heavy menstrual bleeding. Women who experience heavy periods can lack iron in their bodies since they lose blood, which contains most of the iron in the body.

Another indicator of anemia is irregular bleeding in women. When the body lacks sufficient iron, the uterine fibroids, which are found in the uterine cavity, can result in irregular bleeding. 

12. Other Symptoms

Other potential signs and symptoms of iron deficiency include:

  • Numbness

To feed the essential organs and bodily tissues for proper functioning, your body can draw blood from the extremities. This will cause you to have a tingling feeling or numbness in the feet and hands. 

  • Unusual cravings/ Pica

When you notice that you have strange needs for non-food items like ice, paper, clay, and paint, chances are you could be iron deficient. Pica is also common during pregnancy. 

  • Cold feet and hands

When one is iron deficient, enough oxygen is unlikely to reach the hands and feet. This will then result in cold hands and feet. Also, others may feel colder easily than usual. 

  • Spoon shaped or bristle nails

Also known as Koilonychia, bristle, or spoon-shaped pins is a rare symptom of severe iron deficiency anemia. In the early stages, a person with anemia will have brittle nails that chip and crack easily. Later on, the middle of the nail will become raised, and this will give them a rounded spoon-shaped appearance. 

  • Brain fog

If you are having difficulty concentrating at work or school, it could be a sign that you have iron-deficiency anemia. Iron deficiency may also low mental sharpness and make it hard for you to remember things as quickly as you used to. Although age can also make you forget things easily, see a doctor when you are convinced that the brain fog has another cause. 

  • Behavioral disturbances and development delays

Iron deficiency anemia can cause developmental delays in infants and children. Preschoolers could report decreased focus and have trouble paying attention to tasks that they are familiar with. Also, if you notice that your child has issues with social interaction, it could be a sign that they are iron deficient. 

  • Black stools

 If you have iron-deficiency anemia, your stool could have a dark, tar color. Plus, you may be bleeding from the rectum or have blood in your stool. Although these could also be an indication of conditions such as colon or stomach cancer or Crohn’s disease, they are worth looking out for.

  • Reduced appetite

The body lacks iron, the desire for food may go down; its symptom is especially common in infants and children who are iron deficient.

  • Altered sense of taste

For some people, lack of iron in their bodies can interfere with the sense of taste. This is, however, a less common symptom for anemia. 

  • Susceptibility to infections

For the body to perform its functions and have a healthy immune system, the iron mineral is vital. Lack of iron can make you susceptible to infections and illness than usual. You can, therefore, look out for this generic sign if you think that you have iron-deficiency anemia. 


When you have low iron levels, chances of becoming anemic are very high. People with iron deficiency can get various symptoms that can vary from one person to another since everybody reacts in different ways. While some people have typical symptoms, others have none, and this depends on the severity of the anemia. 

If you experience any of the above symptoms that suggest iron deficiency anemia, be sure to check with your doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor will do a blood test to confirm whether you are suffering from iron-deficiency anemia. It is not recommendable to self diagnose yourself or treat yourself by taking iron supplements. Taking excess iron can damage your liver, among other complications.