Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Low iron & iron deficiency anaemia

Rino hakahaka me korenga rino (mate rino)

Woman looking pale and noticing hair changesIron is a mineral your body needs to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen to your body. It's also needed for your muscles and for healthy hair, skin and nails. Iron also helps with brain functioning.

Your body stores some iron, mainly in your liver.

You can become low in iron if you:

Some people have a higher risk of getting iron deficiency. These include:

Symptoms of low iron and iron deficiency anaemia

Low iron (iron deficiency) may cause no symptoms.

You may notice changes in your hair such as dryness or hair falling out. Your nails may break more easily or change shape.

If your body gets very low in iron, you can get anaemia (low red blood cells).

Common anaemia symptoms are due to having less oxygen in your body. They include:

Diagnosing low iron and iron deficiency anaemia

A simple blood test can check your red blood count and iron levels.

If you have iron deficiency anaemia, your doctor will want to find the cause of your low iron. If the reason is not straightforward, such as blood loss from heavy periods or low iron in your food, you may need further tests to find the cause. This may include checking your bowel for hidden bleeding.

Treating low iron and iron deficiency anaemia

Sometimes you can boost your iron by eating plenty of iron-rich foods, but this is not usually enough to treat low iron by itself.

Often, you'll need a course of iron tablets. But these can upset your stomach or bowel.

Some people may need an iron infusion.

Self-care with low iron and iron deficiency anaemia

Make sure you get enough iron in your food. Many foods contain iron including all meats, fish, leafy vegetables, dried fruits and wholemeal bread.

Eat plenty of foods containing vitamin C to help absorb iron into your body.

Avoid tea and coffee with meals as this reduces the amount of iron you absorb.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed February 2023.


See also:

How to get your daily iron

Intravenous (IV) iron

Taking iron supplements

Page reference: 649135

Review key: HIANA-16978