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Updated 16 April 2019

What happens to your body when you leave iron-deficiency anaemia untreated?

Iron-deficiency anaemia is common, but often goes undiagnosed. Here’s what happens if you ignore it.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common causes of anaemia, especially among pregnant women, or people who are malnourished.

Iron-deficiency anaemia can be treated successfully with the right supplements and diet.

Your doctor can easily diagnose anaemia by means of a blood test.

Anaemia, however, often goes undiagnosed and untreated, with far-reaching and even life-threatening consequences. This is what happens to your body when you leave anaemia untreated:

1. Your heart takes strain

When you suffer from anaemia, your body is unable to produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to your vital organs. As a result, your heart needs to work overtime to provide the body with the oxygen it needs.  

A lack of oxygen places an enormous amount of strain on the heart. An irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) may occur or your heart may become enlarged. You may even suffer fatal cardiac arrest.

2. Your quality of life is compromised

The most common symptom of anaemia is extreme fatigue. This type of fatigue is not the odd sleepiness we all might experience from time to time. Fatigue is defined as extreme exhaustion and can have a far–reaching impact on your overall health if not addressed.

Chronic fatigue puts your body under massive strain – it affects the functioning of your immune system, leads to sleep deprivation, headaches and low blood pressure and can impair your mood, cognitive skills and productivity. You might even be at risk of causing an accident or injuring yourself if you don’t stay alert. Constant tiredness might also affect your mental health in the long run.

3. Your lungs take strain

As the level of oxygen throughout the body decreases, your lung capacity also suffers. You may experience breathlessness at times, especially while physically active. If you are someone who exercises regularly and likes to stay fit, decreased lung capacity may cause you to experience difficulty when doing a high–intensity workout.

4. Your organs can't function as they should

When oxygen is carried throughout the body, it is supplied to your most vital organs, like your heart first. If the rest of your organs, such as the kidneys and liver, receive less oxygen than normal it may impair their functioning, leading to health problems like poor digestion.  

What should you do if you suspect anaemia?

If you've been experiencing fatigue for a while, anaemia may be the cause. Here’s what you should do:

  • Visit your doctor. Be clear about your symptoms and their duration and be clear about your current diet and workout routine as this may have an impact on your iron level.
  • If an iron supplement is prescribed, take it as directed and don’t stop when your iron levels are normal again. You need to build up reserves.
  • Eat iron–rich foods. If you are strictly vegetarian or vegan, it is more difficult to incorporate iron-rich foods in your diet. You can work with a dietitian to help you reach your optimum iron levels.
  • Include short sessions of aerobic exercise in your day, but don’t overdo it, and report any sudden chest pains during exercise to your doctor.

Image credit: iStock

 
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