The signs of iron-deficiency anemia can often be subtle and vague, but it’s the most common form of anemia. In fact, 237,000 visits to the emergency room result in a primary diagnosis of the condition, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Iron is an essential mineral so if you lack it, your body can’t make enough healthy red blood cells. Those red blood cells carry hemoglobin, an iron-rich protein that delivers oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body’s tissues.

It’s a good idea to know the symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia especially since they can often take time to develop. Here are 11.


Fatigue is usually the first sign of anemia, but it’s not just that sluggish feeling you get from burning the midnight oil or stress. It’s a different kind of fatigue – people will complain about being bone tired. So if you’re exhausted 24/7, can’t seem to make it past dinner and it’s affecting your quality of life, see your doctor.


One of the best ways to tell if you’re anemic is to look at the mucous membranes of your eyes, also commonly referred to as the water line above your lower lashes. This is a vascular area so if it’s pale, it’s a good sign that you’re not getting enough red blood cells to other areas of your body either. Your face, the palms of your hands and under your nail beds may also look pale.

Shortness of breath

If you feel like you can’t catch your breath, especially during exercise, while climbing the stairs or when you’re lifting something, it’s a good sign that your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. Feeling faint, lightheaded and dizzy are common too.

Heart palpitations

If your heart is racing, you’re having palpitations or hear a whooshing sound in your ears when you lie down, it could mean that your heart is in overdrive. You’re pumping faster to try to get more oxygen. What’s more, an irregular heartbeat or heart murmur are more pronounced when you’re anemic.


A racing heart can make anyone feel anxious, but if anxiety is new for you, has intensified or there seems to be no other reason for it, it could be a sign that you’re anemic.


Since your body will pull blood from your extremities to feed the places it needs to, you might have a numb or tingling feeling in your hands and feet or you may feel cold all the time.

Strange cravings

Some people with an iron-deficiency anemia crave and have a habit of chewing ice. It’s not clear why, but a study in the journal Medical Hypotheses suggests that it may give a boost in mental sharpness the same way a cup of coffee does. Some people may even have cravings for paper and clay too.

Brain fog

If you’re having trouble concentrating, remembering things or don’t feel as sharp as you did in the past, it might not just be age, but a lack of iron.


Tension headaches and migraines are common, but if you notice you’re having headaches more often or nothing you do seems to alleviate the pain, see your doctor.

Restless leg syndrome

It’s estimated that up to 10 per cent of people have restless leg syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause uncomfortable sensations in the legs and other parts of the body and an uncontrollable urge to constantly move. Although the association is not well understood, about 15 per cent of people with the condition also have iron deficiency.

Hair loss

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 80 million men and women experience hereditary hair loss, or what’s known as male pattern baldness. If you notice more hair in your brush or your hair is thinning, it might be that you’re anemic. It could also be a vitamin deficiency or a hormonal condition like hypothyroidism so bring it up to your doctor.


You can reduce your risk of iron deficiency anemia by choosing iron-rich foods.

Foods rich in iron include:

• Red meat and poultry

• Seafood

• Beans

• Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach

• Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots

• Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas

• Peas

Your body absorbs more iron from meat than it does from other sources. If you choose to not eat meat, you may need to increase your intake of iron-rich, plant-based foods to absorb the same amount of iron as does someone who eats meat.