Iron Deficiency vs. Anemia: How to Tell the Difference

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Understanding Iron Deficiency vs. Anemia

The terms “iron deficiency” and “anemia” are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, which can be confusing for people who are struggling with low iron levels to understand the differences between iron deficiency vs. anemia.

Signs of an iron deficiency may not necessarily render a diagnosis of anemia based on the severity of the condition. This is an important distinction to make, particularly for athletes, because the type and level of treatment will be different for someone who has a minor iron deficiency compared to a person with a more severe case of anemia.

This article will discuss how to know the difference between an iron deficiency and anemia and why it is important to be able to differentiate between the two conditions.

Signs of Iron Deficiency

Oftentimes, the first signs of iron deficiency are dizziness, weakness, headaches, and fatigue. It is also common for people with an iron deficiency to have a sore tongue, feel cold more often than usual, and become short of breath while doing everyday tasks. An iron deficiency in itself is not a disease, but rather a form of malnutrition.

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What Causes Iron Deficiency

The question of what causes iron deficiency can be answered in a few different ways. During periods of growth, such as childhood and pregnancy, the body requires more iron. If a person’s iron intake does not meet this increased demand, an iron deficiency results.

Iron deficiency diseases can also be caused by decreased rates of iron absorption. For example, consuming dairy products, eggs, fiber, coffee, and tea with iron-rich foods can reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron well. Excess blood loss through menstruation, an injury, or another medical condition can also cause someone to become iron deficient.

Iron Deficiency Diseases

There are multiple iron deficiency diseases that result from low iron levels, including iron deficiency anemia and anemia of chronic disease. While the first of these conditions involves consistently low iron levels, the latter is a multifactorial anemia that is usually accompanied by an inflammatory condition, autoimmune disease, cancer, or kidney disease. With anemia of chronic disease, anemia is the result of another underlying condition rather than purely low iron intake through diet.

Symptoms of Anemia

Simply put, when comparing iron deficiency vs. anemia, anemia is a much more severe form of iron deficiency. It is a disease that results from decreased red blood cells that are needed in the body. When an iron deficiency isn’t treated promptly, it can lead to anemia. Symptoms of anemia are similar to those of a less severe iron deficiency but will typically be more noticeable and intense.

Treatment for Iron Deficiency vs. Anemia

If the cause of a person’s anemia is determined to be low iron levels, then the treatment for both of these conditions is similar. Fergon, a high-potency iron supplement, can help restore iron in the blood and reduce the symptoms that result from low iron. Blood transfusions or iron infusions may be options explored in cases of severe anemia, but not typically for minor iron deficiencies. Meanwhile, dietary changes may help individuals with an iron deficiency keep their iron levels up and also aid the absorption of iron for long-term wellness.

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