Iron Deficiency Anemia

Published January 1, 2022

someone dizzy, holding a wall

Iron deficiency can leave you feeling all kinds of blah: lethargic, weak, and irritable. Here's how to spot signs of iron deficiency anemia — and when you should seek help.

What is iron deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition in which your blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells. As the name implies, it's due to a lack of iron. Without sufficient iron, your body can't produce enough hemoglobin — the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen. As a result, those with iron deficiency anemia may feel tired and short of breath.


Iron deficiency anemia can develop over time if there is a significant loss of iron in the body or the intake of iron is too low. Contrary to popular belief, it’s very rarely caused by diet. It’s more likely to be the result of:

  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Chronic blood loss (peptic ulcer)
  • Long term use of aspirin or other pain relievers
  • Dialysis
  • Intestinal disorder (celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease)
  • High intensity training for athletes

At Risk

There are some people who are at a higher risk of developing iron deficiency anemia than others including:

  • Women
  • Pregnant women
  • People with existing anemia
  • Infants and children
  • People with restless leg syndrome
  • People with chronic kidney disease
  • Frequent blood donors


  • Fatigue
  • Appetite for substances that aren’t considered food (dirt, paint, hair)
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Shortness of breath especially during exercise
  • Weakness
  • Red or pink urine
  • Pale skin
  • Brittle nails or spooning of nails

High Alert Symptoms

  • Abnormal or unstable blood pressure
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Passing of blood through anus


  • Identify the cause and correct when possible
  • Iron supplements (orally or intravenously)

Consult your Firefly team

Virtual primary care allows you to take back control of your health at your convenience, including managing conditions like iron deficiency anemia. Be sure to reach out to your care team with any questions through the Firefly app.

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