Anaemia is due to reduced blood count (namely haemoglobin inside red blood cells) and commonly caused by reduced iron body stores. Anaemia can also be caused by vitamin B12 and folate deficiency, amongst other causes. When there is a deficiency of iron in the body, finding the cause the underlying cause is paramount. Many of the causes are easily reversible, but in some cases gastrointestinal cancer is the cause. The risk of gastrointestinal cancer increases with age. Early diagnosis allows treatment for cancer and non-cancer causes of iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency anaemia is caused by insufficient iron intake, insufficient absorption or excess iron loss. Most of the causes of iron deficiency are related to the the gastrointestinal tract.
Iron deficiency anaemia is common and is a common reason for endoscopic examination of the gastrointestinal tract.
Insufficient intake is linked with vegetarian and vegan diets, though there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan foods that have iron and we can guide you regarding these.
Limited absorption is caused by conditions that effect the function of the small bowel, such as coeliac disease, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and Crohn’s disease.
Excess iron loss is caused by slow and often unseen blood loss in the gastrointestinal tract. This can be from fragile blood vessels, polyps, cancer, diverticular, inflammatory bowel disease and haemorrhoids.
They often include generalised tiredness and when there is significant anaemia, shortness of breath and reduced activity tolerance occur.
Anaemia will also adversely effect other conditions such as angina, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, making their symptoms worse. Visible blood loss may occur and can be spotted in stools and urine.
The initial diagnosis of iron deficiency anaemia is made using a simple blood test to measure blood count and iron levels. This can be done at any time of the day and does not need fasting. When iron deficiency anaemia diagnosis is established, your consultant will take you through further specialist such as endoscopies (gastroscopy and colonoscopy), as well as the potential for further blood test, X-rays and small bowel capsule endoscopy.
The treatment for iron deficiency anaemia is to replace iron orally or via intravenous route,
while treating the underlying cause to prevent it from reoccurring.