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Iron-Deficiency Anaemia

The most common anaemia throughout the world is iron-deficiency anaemia, a condition that in some tropical areas may be present in up to half the population.

Iron is essential for haemoglobin production and is present in many foodstuffs, particularly meat and liver, eggs, yeast, wheatgerm, oysters and green vegetables. It is more efficiently absorbed from some foods than others, but a normal, balanced diet provides enough iron to meet the body's requirements.

Iron deficiency is most common in women because of blood loss from menstruation and the greatly increased demands for iron in pregnancy. Iron deficiency is also common in infants before mixed feeding begins. In adult men, the most common cause of iron deficiency is chronic blood loss, due to diseases of the stomach or intestine, such as peptic ulcers or haemorrhoids, or hookworm where this is endemic. It may also occur in aspirin addicts, because this drug can cause haemorrhage from the stomach. A single large haemorrhage will not cause anaemia immediately but over the following days. The lost red cells in an otherwise healthy individual will be replaced in about six to eight weeks by increased bone marrow activity. But loss of red cells due to haemorrhage will also result in loss of iron, and a large loss of blood or smaller repeated haemorrhages, deplete the body's iron to an extent that cannot be coped with by a normal diet. Iron­deficiency anaemia is the inevitable result. Prolonged loss of blood will cause chronic anaemia.

Symptoms

Symptoms generally include fatigue, irritability, and the skin may become pale. If the anaemia is due to internal bleeding, blood may be detected in the faeces.

Treatment

Treatment of iron-deficiency anaemia usually involves taking extra iron in the form of tablets, although some people, who cannot take iron orally because of intestinal disorders, may have to be given injections. It is important to make sure that the diet includes plenty of iron-rich foods.

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