If Iron Deficiency Symptoms and symptoms of anemia sound a lot like you feel every day, then it’s probably time for you to get your blood iron and ferritin levels checked… EVEN IF your doctor has told you that you do not have anemia. Why would you check your iron level if you don’t have anemia? Didn’t your doctor already check your iron level if he says you don’t have anemia? Isn’t that how he knows you don’t have anemia?
No, not exactly. You can have iron deficiency even if you do not have anemia. As we point out on the Iron Poor Blood page, you can have iron deficiency for years or even decades prior to having Iron Deficiency Anemia, but unless your iron deficiency has progressed to anemia, then you’ll be told that you are ‘fine’ and that your symptoms are not from anemia. If you read the Definition of Anemia page, you’ll understand why your doctor is right, that your symptoms won’t be from anemia, but what your doctor misses is that they could STILL be iron deficiency symptoms. How confusing, right?
Additionally, if you are an African-American, you may actually have anemia, but because Doctors Often Leave African-Americans Anemic, you’d be diagnosed with anemia if you were white, but be told you don’t have anemia if you are black, and not be treated for low iron regardless of your symptoms!
The bottom line being that if you have any of the symptoms of iron deficiency or symptoms of anemia below, then make sure that your blood test not only includes hemoglobin and hematocrit, standard tests that most doctors will give you and that tell your doctor whether or not you have anemia, but that you insist upon getting both iron and ferritin levels as well since these tests will tell you whether or not you have iron deficiciency!
It might save you the decades of symptoms that I had because I had iron deficiency, but did not yet have anemia. Because those are the possible consequences of testing only hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, but not also testing iron and ferritin levels.
Lots of Iron Deficiency Symptoms
Since there are so many iron deficiency symptoms and symptoms of anemia that we’ll put them into categories for you to more easily scan and see if your symptoms match up. Also, we would like to point out that many symptoms of iron deficiency match up to many other problems such as:
- Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
- Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
- Many other chronic problems that your doctor probably will not check for either
Most of these symptoms are ‘nonspecific’, meaning that they are not just limited to iron deficiency, but are common to many many health issues. This is one of the problems that makes all of these chronic issues so widely undiagnosed, they all look the same as symptoms of dozens of different things.
It makes it all the more important for you to be your own best advocate and learn as much as you can about your health so that you can go on the chase for the root cause of your symptoms that doctors will almost certainly overlook if you don’t prompt them to dig deeper. Or you just go ‘dig’ for the cause of health problems yourself by Ordering a Blood Test Yourself (in the US) and getting a Blood Chemistry Analysis to find out the imbalances and potential root cause health problems that your doctor has been missing.
Iron Deficiency Symptoms that You Feel All Over
Fatigue is the number one problem that people in western countries go to see a doctor for. While it may be from iron deficiency symptoms, fatigue is a ‘non-specific’ symptom that may or may not be one of the iron deficiency symptoms or symptoms of anemia, however, it is the #1 symptom experienced by those with iron deficiency and symptoms of anemia. In fact, it’s usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone thinks of iron deficiency or anemia, and therefore iron deficiency should always be ‘ruled out’ by getting an iron and ferritin level when someone seeks medical attention regarding fatigue.
Other body symptoms that many experience from iron deficiency are:
- Body aches
- Muscle pains
- Feeling cold or intolerance to cold
- Decreased athletic performance
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Feeling like you’re ‘just getting old’
Neurologic Symptoms Can Be a Symptom of Iron Deficiency
Neurologic symptoms are dysfunctions involving the brain and nervous system. These are extremely common with iron deficiency and very problematic because, particularly in the case of children, or the effects are so mild or are considered just the child’s ‘personality’ or ‘intelligence level’ that they may be missed entirely.
Adults will often characterize these neurologic symptoms as ‘brain fog’ or having a poor memory. Children that have lived their short lives with iron deficiency symptoms don’t often know that life could be any other way, and studies show that these children often manifest their iron deficiency symptoms through lower than average test scores, poor learning ability, and lack of attention. How many children in schools today match these symptoms without anyone checking them for iron deficiency before they get labeled as ‘special needs’, ‘slow learner’, or ‘ADHD’?
“In this urban population of NON-ANEMIC
iron-deficient adolescent girls,
iron supplementation improved
verbal learning and memory.”
Cognitive effects of iron supplementation
in non-anemic girls
Note the quote just above this and, to be clear here; these symptoms have been specifically shown to show up in children when anemia is NOT PRESENT. Every parent of a child with poor attention or who is not doing well in school should have their ears perk up enough to have them get their children’s iron and ferritin levels checked at their next doctor’s visit. Remember, doctors will almost never order these tests UNLESS the late sign of anemia is present. You will have to be the one to ask for, and possibly even insist on, a doctor doing this test.
Fair warning, your doctor may refuse to grant your request since they have no obligation to do tests just because you request them. Hint: that’s why it’s useful to be able to Order Your Own Tests Here (US Residents Only). Get what you want, when you want, you don’t need your doctor’s permission to get most tests without your doctor.
The brain is not the only organ in the nervous system, though, and all of the nerves in the body are included in this as well. One symptom that is common in iron deficiency that involves nerves is a feeling of ‘pins and needles’ in the lower extremities. This usually does not include full-blown symptoms of a condition known as Peripheral Neuropathy unless other problems exist at the same time or the iron deficiency progresses to full-blown anemia. However, many people do experience uncomfortable and sometimes even painful pins and needles from the decreased oxygen levels in the lower extremities that are the primary problem of iron deficiency.
Food Cravings and Pica
Many nutrient deficiencies have an element of food cravings. For instance, the craving for chocolate is often a Sign of Magnesium Deficiency. But sometimes nutritional deficiencies manifest as a condition called ‘pica’, which is defined as cravings for NON-food items. For iron deficiency, chewing ice is extremely common. Why this is the case is unknown since no matter how much ice you eat, you’ll never get any iron, but it’s so common, and so unusual that it’s almost diagnostic for iron deficiency.
On a personal note, I drove people around me crazy with my constant ice chewing for decades. This compulsion went away completely when I resolved my iron deficiency. Even though I was not diagnosed with iron deficiency until I was in my 40’s, the fact that I had ice pica since I was a teeenager, and restless leg syndrome since childhood leads me to believe that I was iron deficient for decades, possibly most of my life.
A pica can be be for any substance, however. In fact, there was a TV show on for a while that highlighted unusual people and one show highlighted a women who continually ate toilet paper! She took it everywhere she went and the show followed her about her day remarking on how crazy this was. What no one did was to make a suggestion that this woman was probably exhibiting the symptoms of a serious nutrient deficiency! I was saddened by the show that it missed the obvious- this woman was nutrient deficient and experiencing a pica.
Anyone who experiences unusual cravings for food or non-food substances should get a full screening for nutrient deficiencies. Unfortunately, to point this out again, most doctors would not find an iron deficiency if it has not already progressed to anemia, because they simply do not test iron levels UNLESS anemia is present. And, unfortunately, there are few accurate blood tests for most other nutrient deficiencies. For instance, the Magnesium Blood Test is simply inaccurate and cannot and does not test for magnesium deficiency, and you can still be calcium deficient if you have a Normal Calcium Blood Level. Interestingly, in the case of iron deficiency, picas can disappear almost immediately after treatment is started, regardless of how iron deficient someone is.
Restless Leg Syndrome
One symptom that is often incredibly annoying and even destructive to health because of loss of sleep is restless leg syndrome, which is often abbreviated RLS. Restless leg syndrome is a condition that is a lot like it sounds; the people who experience it have legs that won’t stay still, particularly at night where it disrupts their sleep.
Often,this syndrome is labeled as a problem of a substance called dopamine in the brain, a substance that helps nerve cells to fire, and is treated with drugs used for Parkinson’s Disease. However, it’s actually a very common symptom of those with iron deficiency, and possibly even those with magnesium deficiency as well.
“Iron deficiency, with or without anaemia, is an important
contributor to the development of RLS in elderly patients,
and iron supplements can produce a significant reduction in symptoms.”
Iron Status and Restless Legs Syndrome in the Elderly
Calling it an ‘incurable’ disease of neurotransmitter dysfunction that requiress a lifetime of pharmaceutical use should be reserved for a diagnosis only after all other possibilities are excluded. Iron deficiency, in particular, is an extremely common cause of this problem, and it’s probably more common than believed since people are labeled with RLS because no one actually tests their iron levels!
If you experience any of these iron deficiency symptoms, be sure to get tested for Iron and Ferritin levels regardless of whether you have anemia or not. Anyone with children should be particularly aware of these symptoms and have children tested regardless of the status of their hemoglobin and hematocrit. In this case, the medical profession is letting millions of people, particularly women and children, suffer needlessly for lack of an inexpensive blood test. Now you have the knowledge, and there is no need to suffer because your doctor leaves you undiagnosed. And for those who do have iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, get the Best Iron Supplements on the market. Studies show they are as good as intravenous iron, and they were a lifesaver for me!