More Than a Third of Women Under 50 Are Iron-Deficient

Iron is an essential nutrient for many things our bodies do every day, and yet more than a third of adult women of reproductive age in the United States are deficient.

Menstrual bleeding and pregnancy are the main drivers of the deficiency. Symptoms are often nonspecific and vague, like fatigue, brain fog, lightheadedness, sleep disturbances and a reduced ability to exercise. If left untreated in the long term, iron deficiency can deplete healthy red blood cells in the body, causing anemia. During pregnancy, iron deficiency and anemia can have an adverse effect on the mother and the fetus.

If you have heavy periods, eat a vegetarian diet or are planning to get pregnant, consider asking your doctor to test your ferritin levels, which measures how much iron is stored in your body, said Dr. Malcolm Munro, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. In annual checkups, most doctors will test only for hemoglobin levels, he said, but that is an indicator of anemia, not iron deficiency. Getting your ferritin levels tested is usually covered by insurance, he added. “It’s not some fancy test.”


加州大学洛杉矶分校大卫格芬医学院(David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles)妇产科教授马尔科姆·蒙罗(Malcolm Munro)表示,营养缺乏会影响从免疫到认知等多种功能,但往往不容易被诊断出来。




密歇根大学医学院的儿科血液学家安吉拉·韦安德(Angela Weyand)说,缺铁的症状通常不是特别明显,包括呼吸急促、脑雾、疲劳、头晕、对寒冷的敏感性增加和心悸,所有这些也可能是许多其他健康状况的迹象。她说,缺铁还与其他一些负面健康结果有关,包括焦虑、抑郁、睡眠障碍甚至心力衰竭。



Keep menstrual bleeding in check

Many women don’t know whether their menstrual bleeding might be considered heavy, said Dr. Angela Weyand, a pediatric hematologist at University of Michigan Medical School.

“I see a lot of adolescents who have very heavy menstrual bleeding and end up having severe anemia where they have to be admitted to the hospital,” she said. “Oftentimes, these patients hadn’t even recognized that their bleeding was abnormal.”

Soaking through a pad or tampon every two hours, bleeding for more than seven days or needing double coverage (like a tampon and a pad) are all signs that your period is too heavy.

If you have heavy bleeding and are iron-deficient, talk to your gynecologist to first rule out factors that might be causing the excess bleeding, like endometriosis or fibroids, Dr. Munro suggested. From there you might consider approaches to reduce how much you bleed, such as birth control pills or the hormonal intrauterine device.


If you are experiencing new, severe, or persistent symptoms, contact a health care provider.
Common symptoms include:

  • General fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Strange cravings to eat items that are not food, such as dirt, ice, or clay
  • A tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
  • Tongue swelling or soreness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Brittle nails
  • Headache