Anemia is a lack of healthy red blood cells or an abnormal supply of hemoglobin, the main part of red blood cells that binds with oxygen. A lack of these essential components can result in too little oxygen delivered throughout the body, which can cause many health problems. When organs become depleted in oxygen and essential nutrients, they lose the ability to function at their full capacity.
People with anemia often experience severe fatigue, even when they are getting sufficient sleep. A lack of oxygen throughout the body means the systems are unable to process the nutrients needed to create energy, resulting in constant lethargy. Though this symptom may not leave everyone incapable of getting up in the morning, most will find they have considerably less energy as the day goes on and may feel a regular need to rest.
Iron deficiency anemia is sometimes associated with headaches that range in severity from light pressure to a pounding that causes severe pain. These headaches often come with lightheadedness or dizziness, especially when sitting down standing up quickly, or when exercising. In severe cases, this can lead to fainting spells. All of these symptoms occur due to the lack of oxygen reaching the brain. In most cases, when anemia is treated, these symptoms lessen.
Perhaps one of the oddest symptoms of anemia is cravings for unusual things, such as dirt or ice cubes. This medical condition, called pica, can leave people concerned about their mental health, but it is a fairly common symptom of anemia. Studies show when individuals begin taking iron supplements, this craving dies off. It is still unclear how a desire to eat substances like dirt is connected to low iron and anemia.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath without an obvious cause — such as physical activity — can indicate anemia. Though there are many reasons for this symptom, if it is persistent and occurs along with other anemia signs, one may choose to have their iron levels tested. Anemia can also cause undue pressure on the lungs, as they work overtime to bring in more air to combat the lack of oxygen making it difficult to breathe.
Your heart is incapable of working without oxygen. Lack of oxygen to the heart has many causes, including blockages, but it can also develop from anemia. Cardiologists observed that many people with heart diseases have anemia, and people with anemia also have a much higher risk of having heart diseases, including heart attack. Anyone experiencing chest pain should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Another early warning symptom of anemia is an irregular heartbeat that speeds up and slows down with no connection to physical exertion. This occurs when the body attempts to raise energy levels by circulating the blood throughout the blood vessels at a faster speed, aiming to spread hemoglobin and therefore oxygen to the organs in need. Fatigue almost always accompanies this symptom.
Cold Hands and Feet
When issues with blood flow develop, the brain has an uncanny way of knowing which areas of the body need blood the most and tries to bring more oxygen-rich blood to the major organs, to protect them. As a result, the extremities like hands and feet may receive less blood. Poor circulation to extremities translates into cold hands and feet. In many cases, treating anemia combats this symptom quite quickly.
Every single part of the human body relies on oxygen, and the fingernails and toenails are no different. When the nails stop receiving oxygen from the blood, the nailbed has reduced capacity to create new cells to keep the nails strong. This results in a loss of elasticity that healthy blood can bring, rendering the nails dry and brittle and easily breakable, prone to peeling and splitting.
When the body must delegate the areas that are most important for blood supply, the heart and the brain win out. As a result of blood being rerouted to the vital organs, the skin is another area that receives less. When this occurs, the skin pales. If anemia is very severe, the skin can become ashy or gray, one of the more immediately concerning symptoms of the condition.
Studies link low iron to restless leg syndrome, which makes an individual prone to jerking or jiggling their legs almost uncontrollably. This condition is usually most severe at night, interrupting sleep. Iron supplements and other anemia treatments can reduce this symptom, though it is important to note that anemia is not the only cause of restless leg syndrome.