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Iron deficiency anemia in Adult
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Iron deficiency anemia in Adult

Contributors: Abigail Clarkson-During MD, Carla Casulo MD, Michael W. Winter MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


This anemia results from deficient levels of iron. The deficiency is caused by inadequate iron intake (especially during periods of rapid growth or pregnancy), blood loss (including menorrhagia and internal bleeding), or decreased iron absorption in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. In early stages, hemolysis may present as an iron deficiency anemia.

Common findings include fatigue, dyspnea, weakness, pallor, and coarse skin and hair. Less common findings include pica (a craving to eat nonfood items, particularly ice or metal), brittle nails, tongue edema, and headache.

Within the general population, there are subsets at increased risk for iron deficiency anemia. These include children younger than 5 years, due to decreased GI absorption and increased metabolism; menstruating individuals; and pregnant individuals. Some chronic diseases result in an iron deficiency anemia. These include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), in which excess loss but also impaired iron absorption can contribute to deficiency; chronic kidney disease; and congestive heart failure. Medications can cause changes in iron absorption and metabolism and lead to iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is easy to diagnose, but often subtle symptoms lead to delays in diagnosis. Once confirmed, many patients will improve within weeks with iron repletion and recognition with treatment of the underlying etiology.

Related topic: drug-induced anemia


D50.9 – Iron deficiency anemia, unspecified

87522002 – Iron Deficiency Anemia

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Pernicious anemia / Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Folate deficiency
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Thalassemia: Alpha thalassemia or Beta thalassemia
  • Red blood cell dysplasia
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Malignancy – Colon cancer, other solid or liquid tumors
  • Chronic disease – IBD, Chronic kidney disease, Congestive heart failure, Celiac disease, autoimmune Gastritis
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Restrictive diet – inadequate iron intake

Best Tests

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Management Pearls

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed:02/07/2019
Last Updated:08/08/2021
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Iron deficiency anemia in Adult
A medical illustration showing key findings of Iron deficiency anemia : Fatigue, Headache, Dyspnea, Pallor, Generalized weakness, RR increased, RBC decreased
Clinical image of Iron deficiency anemia - imageId=1651599. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'Spoon-shaped fingernails in a child.'
Spoon-shaped fingernails in a child.
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.