By Cathryn Peter, Madelon Smith, Martha Timmons
Iron is an element that is found in red blood cells and is essential for the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the body. Humans are unable to make their own iron. People must consume iron-rich foods or iron supplements to meet body requirements. If a person has an insufficient amount of iron they can develop a disorder called iron deficiency anemia (IDA). IDA is very common in older adults. According to Lindblad, Cotton, and Allan (2015), more than 10% of adults over the age of 65 have IDA. This number increases to 20% in adults over the age of 85.
What is anemia?
Anemia is a disorder in which the blood does not contain enough red blood cells or the red blood cells are unable to carry oxygen efficiently. There are a number of reasons a person may become anemic. Iron deficiency accounts for 15% – 30% of anemia cases. Most often, an iron deficit is the result of poor intake of iron-rich foods in the diet. Even if you consume plenty of iron-rich foods there could be a problem with the way your body absorbs iron. Beverages such as tea or coffee contain chemicals called tannins that inhibit the body’s ability to absorb iron properly. Drinking large quantities of beverages containing tannins can lead to iron deficiency which can progress to anemia. Overuse of aspirin or ibuprofen can affect the digestive tract and cause internal bleeding, leading to IDA. Chronic conditions such as heart failure and kidney disease can result in IDA (Andres, Serraj, Federici, Vogel, & Kaltenbach, 2013).
Signs and Symptoms
- Excessive tiredness
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Cracks in the corners of the mouth
- Sore/red tongue
- Changes in hair, nails, and/or inside of mouth
Treatment of IDA varies depending on the severity of the illness. Oral iron supplements are given to 63% of anemic patients (Lindblad et al., 2015). Iron supplements should be taken on an empty stomach to enhance their absorption. However, taking iron supplements on an empty stomach may cause nausea or vomiting. To prevent inadequate absorption, avoid taking iron supplements with antacids or with calcium products, such as milk or yogurt. It is recommended to take calcium supplements one to two hours after taking an iron supplement. To enhance iron absorption, it is ideal to take iron supplements with a source of vitamin C such as orange juice. Your doctor may also consider iron injections, depending on the severity of the illness (Andres et al., 2013).
Consuming an iron rich diet is a key component in preventing IDA. Cooking with a cast-iron skillet will further enhance the iron in your foods. Some examples of iron-rich foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Red meats, poultry, and fish
- Dried fruits, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Whole grain breads and pastas
- Sunflower seeds
Iron deficiency, which can lead to anemia, is a common problem among the older adult population. IDA symptoms can cause excessive tiredness and weakness interfering with daily life. With proper treatment IDA can be controlled. It is important to inform your healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms that suggest IDA.
Cathryn Peter, BSN student
Madelon Smith, BSN student
Martha Timmons, BSN student
Pam Thomas, MSN, RN, CCRN
Charlotte Connerton, EdD, RN, CNE-BC
University or Southern Indiana College of Nursing and Health Professions
Andrès, E., Serraj, K., Federici, L., Vogel, T., & Kaltenbach, G. (2013). Anemia in elderly
patients: New insight into an old disorder. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 13,
Lindblad, A. J., Cotton, C., & Allan, G. M. (2015). Canadian Family Physician, 61, 159.
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