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90% of young Indian women suffer from iron deficiency: Doctors

IANS Feb 26, 2024

Iron deficiency is a widespread issue among young women, affecting around 90 per cent in India, said doctors on 25 Feb, calling the need for timely detection of the condition.

Many women experience low iron levels without realising it, often attributing symptoms like fatigue and weakness to other causes. Iron deficiency is a common nutritional shortfall that occurs when the body doesn't have enough iron to support its functions.

This essential mineral plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, maintaining healthy red blood cells, and supporting overall energy levels.

Without adequate iron, individuals may experience fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive function.

"Iron deficiency among young women is a growing concern that is often overlooked. Despite efforts to promote healthy eating and supplementation, 90 per cent of young women still struggle with insufficient iron levels," Dr Rajesh Bendre, National Technical Head and Chief Pathologist Apollo Diagnostics.

He said factors such as menstrual blood loss, restrictive diets, and heavy reliance on processed foods are behind the rise in iron deficiency among women.

Further, the doctor noted that the lack of education about iron-rich food sources and dietary requirements exacerbates the problem.

"It is crucial to raise awareness about the importance of maintaining adequate iron levels and provide accessible resources for proper nutrition education," he said.

Many pregnant women also suffer from iron deficiency, leading to low haemoglobin, anaemia, and its associated symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath, and pale skin, the expert said.

"Iron deficiency in many pregnant women is a pressing concern that can have far-reaching consequences. Beyond the immediate health risks to the mother, such as anaemia and fatigue, iron deficiency during pregnancy can also hinder foetal development. Inadequate iron levels in expecting mothers may increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight, which can impact a child's long-term health and cognitive development," Dr Bendre said.

Addressing iron deficiency in pregnant women goes beyond simply supplementing with iron pills. Experts should educate women about the importance of regular prenatal check-ups to monitor their iron levels throughout pregnancy, enabling timely intervention if deficiencies arise.

"Anaemia is one of the most widespread public health problems and has important health and welfare, social, and economic consequences. These include reduced hours at work, poor concentration and low self-esteem causing impaired development and in severe cases increased risk of death in pregnant patients, especially around the time of delivery. About 50 to 60 per cent of pregnant women are found to be deficient in iron," Dr Abhya Bhave, Haematologist, at Lilavati Hospital.

The incidence of anaemia in our population is high, especially in the student and marriageable age group.

Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anaemia due to poor nutrition or poor food intake, worm infestation of the intestine, intestinal blood loss, and blood loss during periods.

"Iron deficiency anaemia can have sinister reasons in the intestines including rare malignancies or malabsorption syndromes that will need a different line of treatment to prevent its recurrence. There are other causes of anaemia such as Vit B12 and folic acid deficiency, poor production in the bone marrow, and excessive destruction," Bhave said.

According to Dr. Kekin Gala, Gynaecologist, Apollo Spectra Mumbai, fatigue and general weakness are often the first signs of iron deficiency.

"Paying attention to your menstrual cycle can also be important in diagnosis, as heavy periods can lead to iron loss and subsequent deficiency. Screening tests for iron deficiency include a complete blood count (CBC), and additional tests such as serum ferritin and transferrin saturation can provide more specific information about iron levels in the body. Regular monitoring through these tests not only provides insight into current iron status but also supports preventative efforts against more severe complications associated with untreated deficiency," Gala said.

In addition to supplements, Gala emphasised the need to incorporate iron-rich foods like spinach, and lentils into daily diet to help replenish iron levels naturally while also improving overall nutrition.

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