Talking to your doctor
If you have been feeling tired or have any other signs of iron deficiency such as paleness, faintness or a racing heart, you may want to speak to your doctor. It could be that you are iron deficient, but there may be another condition causing your symptoms.
To get the most out of your visit it is useful to think about the information that the doctor might need in order to work out what is causing your symptoms. You could also plan the questions that you would like to ask.
You might want to talk to your doctor about:
- How long you have felt fatigued (if applicable) and whether it is better or worse after sleeping or exercise
- How extreme your tiredness or fatigue feels and how much it affects your daily life
- Whether your symptoms appeared after a certain event or change in your life
- Whether you have any other symptoms, including when they started, how long they last, anything that makes them better or worse and if they affect your daily life
- Whether you have any of the risk factors that make iron deficiency more likely, for example if you have heavy periods, are pregnant, have coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet or have had bariatric surgery
- What (if any) medications you are on
- What your everyday habits are, including whether you smoke or not, how much alcohol you drink and how much exercise you do
- Whether you have been to see another doctor or healthcare specialist or had to stay in hospital recently and if so, what was the cause of your visit
Treatment options for iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia
Once a doctor has reviewed the symptoms and blood test results they will be able to confirm a diagnosis of iron deficiency (ID) or iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), and recommend the best treatment.
The treatment of ID and IDA usually involves two elements. The first is to help the body make up for its lack of iron and restore haemoglobin levels to normal; the second is to address the underlying cause of the iron deficiency.1,2
One treatment option may be to increase the amount of iron in the diet by eating more iron-rich foods like red meat, liver, pulses, fortified cereals and leafy greens.3
What treatments are available?
Some treatments may be more suitable for some patients than others, depending on the degree of iron deficiency and any other medical conditions that someone may have. The doctor will be able to discuss the treatment options available and give advice about the most suitable treatment.
It may take different lengths of time to feel better, depending on the treatment. It is best to find out from a doctor about when to expect to notice a positive effect.
People with iron deficiency who are having problems with treatment and experiencing side effects, or finding that symptoms are not improving, should see a doctor again for advice.
A doctor may decide that extra iron needs to be given through:
- Oral (by mouth) tablets or supplements available over-the-counter or on prescription
- Intravenous iron, where iron is delivered directly into the blood stream – this may be appropriate for people who suffer side effects with oral treatment, or where oral treatment cannot be used
In certain specific circumstances a blood transfusion may be required, but this is uncommon. A blood transfusion is a process of taking blood from one person (the donor) and giving it to someone else (the recipient).
- Goddard A et al. Gut 2011; 60(10): 1309-1316.
- NHS Choices website. Anaemia, iron deficiency, Treatment, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anaemia-iron-deficiency-/Pages/Treatment.aspx. (Last accessed January 2019.)
- Alleyne M et al. Am J Med 2008; 121(11): 943-948.