Iron deficiency – signs and symptoms

Iron deficiency – signs and symptoms

You might have heard of the term ‘anaemia’ and you may also know that this means you’re low in iron. But do you know the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Some of the most common traits associated with the condition are often ignored but it it’s important to be aware of how iron deficiency can affect your health and wellbeing in order to avoid long term complications.

Iron Deficiency

Firstly, why do we need iron and why does it matter if we don’t have enough?

Our bodies need the mineral iron to make haemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells that helps them to carry oxygen through your blood vessels.

If there isn’t enough haemoglobin, the tissues and muscles can’t get enough oxygen to be able to work effectively, leading to a condition called anaemia.

There are various types of anaemia, but iron deficiency anaemia is the most common. Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency vary depending on your age, your general health and how severe the anaemia is.

Here are some of the most common.

Persistent tiredness

Feeling constantly tired is one of the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia. It happens because your body lacks the iron it needs to make a protein called haemoglobin. Without enough haemoglobin, less oxygen reaches your tissues and muscles, depriving them of energy. Your heart also has to work harder to move more oxygen-rich blood around your body, which can make you feel tired.

While it’s one of the most common symptoms, it’s also one of the most easily dismissed. Bust lifestyles mean we often overlook feeling tired without realising it could be a sign of a deficiency.

Heart palpitations

With iron deficiency, low levels of haemoglobin mean the heart has to work extra hard to carry oxygen around the body. This can lead to irregular heartbeats or the feeling that your heart is beating abnormally fast.


Another common complaint linked to anaemia; headaches can be particularly prevalent for people who are menstruating.

Pale skin

Skin that’s paler than usual is another common symptom of iron deficiency. The haemoglobin in red blood cells gives blood its colour. Paleness is often one of the first things doctors will look for as a sign of iron deficiency and is more commonly seen in moderate or severe cases of anaemia.

Dry and damaged hair and skin

Iron deficiency lowers the level of haemoglobin in your blood, which may reduce the amount of oxygen available to cells that cause hair growth. When skin and hair are deprived of oxygen, they may become dry and weak.

It’s completely typical for some hair to fall out during everyday washing and brushing. However, if you’re losing clumps or large amounts, it may be related to iron deficiency.

Shortness of breath

Haemoglobin enables your red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body.

When haemoglobin levels are low during iron deficiency, oxygen levels are likewise low. This means that your muscles won’t receive enough oxygen to do normal activities, such as walking. As a result, your breathing rate will increase as your body tries to get more oxygen. This is why shortness of breath is a common symptom.

If you find yourself out of breath when doing daily tasks that you used to find easy, such as walking, climbing stairs, or working out, iron deficiency may be to blame.

Swelling and soreness of your tongue or mouth

Sometimes, the inside or outside of your mouth indicates whether you have iron deficiency anaemia. Signs include a swollen, inflamed, pale, or strangely smooth tongue.

Iron deficiency may also cause other symptoms around your mouth, such as a dry mouth, a burning feeling in your mouth, ulcers, or sore, red cracks at the corners of your mouth.

Restless legs

Iron deficiency has been linked to restless leg syndrome – a condition involves a strong urge to move your legs while they’re at rest. It may also cause crawling or itching sensations in your feet and legs and it generally worse at night.

A simple home check for your iron levels 

With GP waiting times increasing in many practices, and appointments for non-urgent care more difficult to access, private blood testing is becoming a common alternative for many people looking to take control of their health.

Our home to laboratory iron blood test is a quick and convenient way to confirm the levels iron in your body, indicating if there’s a deficiency you need to be aware of. A comprehensive test, it includes checks for:

  • Iron

  • The serum iron level is a measure of the iron circulating in the blood. It tells us the state of the body's iron reserves. An excess can indicate disorders of iron storage (such as haemochromatosis), while low levels may indicate iron deficiency.

  • TIBC

  • The TIBC (total iron binding capacity) is a measure of the body's ability to store iron. The higher the level, the less iron there is in reserve. This test can be used to detect iron deficiency, and also conditions of iron excess (such as haemochromatosis).

  • Ferritin

  • Ferritin is a protein found in the blood which carries iron. It can tell us how much iron is stored in the body. The higher the level, the greater the amount of iron stored. This test can be used to detect iron deficiency, and also conditions of iron excess (such as haemochromatosis).

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