What is anemia?
Michael Berman, MD, is medical director of the Banner Good Samaritan Pre-Surgical Assessment Program. For more information, call the Banner Good Samaritan Pre-Surgical Assessment Program at (602) 839-6126.
Question: My doctor told me that I have a low iron count. Should I be concerned?
Answer: Iron deficiency is often discovered after an earlier test shows that you have anemia, a condition that describes a below-normal red blood cell count. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting sufficient amounts of oxygen to your body tissues. Oxygen acts like fuel—it provides energy for your muscles and organs to work. Thus, iron deficiency anemia is often the reason for fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, irritability or pale skin.
Anemia due to iron deficiency is the most common anemia. Anemia can also be caused by vitamin deficiency, aging, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic kidney disease and surgery.
Iron deficiency anemia develops when the body has had a low level of iron for a long time. It can be caused by blood loss, not eating or absorbing enough iron, or by an increased demand for iron like pregnancy. Iron supplementation (iron pills) taken with vitamin C may be necessary to raise the low iron levels. When oral iron is poorly absorbed, supplemental iron may need to be given directly into the bloodstream at a hospital or your doctor’s office.
You should be concerned and motivated to correct this condition, especially if you are planning to have surgery. Treatment with intravenous iron rapidly raises your iron counts and can correct anemia. You are likely to feel a difference in your energy level, and you will also be better able to tolerate surgery.