Are you tired and weak? Do the linings of your lower eyelids look pale? If so, you could be anemic. But what does that mean? It means that either your red blood cells or the amount of hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying protein) in your red blood cells is low.

Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common form of anemia. In the United States, 20 percent of all women of childbearing age have iron-deficiency anemia (compared to 2 percent of adult men). The primary cause is blood lost during menstruation. But eating too few iron-rich foods or not absorbing enough iron can make the problem worse. (The recommended daily allowance for iron ranges from 6 milligrams (infants) to 30 milligrams (pregnant women). Yet one government source found that females between 12 and 50 years old, those at highest risk for iron-deficiency anemia, get about half of what they need). Pregnancy, breast-feeding a baby, and blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract (either due to ulcers or cancer) can also deplete iron stores. Older persons who have poor diets, especially when they live alone, often have iron-deficiency anemia.

Folic-acid deficiency anemia, another type of anemia, occurs when folic-acid levels are low, usually due to inadequate dietary intake or faulty absorption. The need for this vitamin more than doubles during pregnancy.

Other less common forms of anemia include pernicious anemia (inability of the body to properly absorb vitamin B12), sickle cell anemia (an inherited disorder), and thalassemia anemia (also inherited).

Alcohol, certain medicines, and some chronic diseases can also cause anemia.

Self-Care Tips

The first step in treating iron-deficiency anemia is to pinpoint the cause. If it’s due to a poor diet, you’re in luck: Iron deficiency anemia is not only the most common form of anemia, it’s the easiest to correct if it’s due to being female or taking in inadequate amounts of certain foods. Folic acid vitamin supplements may also be necessary.

You may need to:

  • Eat more food that are good sources of iron. Concentrate on green, leafy vegetables, lean, red meat, beef liver, poultry, fish, wheat germ, oysters, dried fruit, and iron-fortified cereals.
  • Boost your iron absorption. Foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries, help your body absorb iron from food. And red meat not only supplies a good amount of iron, it also increases absorption of iron from other food sources.
  • Don’t drink a lot of teaÑit contains tannins, substances that can inhibit iron absorption. (Herbal tea is okay, though).
  • Take an iron supplement. (Consult your physician for proper dosage). While iron is best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach, it can upset your stomach. Taking iron with meals is less upsetting to the stomach. [Note: Recent research is suggesting that high levels of iron in the blood may increase the risk for heart attacks. Do check with your doctor before taking iron supplements.]
  • Avoid antacids, phosphates (which are found in soft drinks, beer, ice cream, etc.) and the food additive EDTA. These block iron absorption.

Questions to Ask

Do you have blood in your stools or urine or have black, tar-like stools with these problems?

  • Light headedness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe abdominal pain

Yes: Seek Emergency Care


Are you dizzy when you stand up or when you exert yourself?

Yes: See Doctor


Do you have ringing in your ears?

Yes: See Doctor


For women:

  • Do you have menstrual bleeding between periods?
  • Has menstrual bleeding been heavy for several months?
  • Do you normally bleed seven days or more every month?
  • Do you suspect that you are pregnant?

Yes: Call Doctor

Do symptoms of anemia (paleness, tiredness, listlessness and weakness) persist despite using self-care tips (listed below) for at least two weeks?
Yes: Call Doctor

Provide Self-Care

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021