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Iron deficiency anemia and aging: What to know

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Due to a lack of iron, iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body does not produce enough healthy red blood cells. Nutritional deficits, blood loss, the use of certain drugs, and impaired absorption are all possible causes in older people.

Iron is used by the body to make red blood cells (RBCs), which transport oxygen throughout the body. A person may not be able to manufacture enough healthy RBCs to meet the body’s needs if they do not have enough iron. As a result, iron deficiency anemia can be caused as a result, causing symptoms such as weariness, weakness, and shortness of breath.

A person’s food is usually the source of iron. Iron deficiency anemia is caused by a nutritional deficiency or the body’s inability to utilise iron properly. Due to various contributory factors that might influence how the body receives or uses dietary iron, this condition is frequent among older persons.

The prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in older people is discussed in this article, as is how to treat and manage the condition.

When to consult a doctor

Anyone over the age of 50 who is having symptoms that could indicate iron deficiency anemia, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, should seek medical advice.

Individuals who have underlying disorders that can limit iron absorption should talk to their doctor about how to lower their risk of iron insufficiency.

condition.

Causes

older adult

Iron deficiency anemia is rather frequent among the elderly. According to 2018 research, 12–47 percent of older persons will acquire some kind of anemia, depending on the community.

According to other studies, anemia is most common in older people, affecting roughly 17% of the population over the age of 65. Iron deficiency anemia, in particular, is thought to account for around one-third of anemia cases in older persons, according to research.

Despite the fact that some cases of iron deficiency anemia are mild, anemia in older persons can lead to a variety of negative consequences, including extended hospital admissions and even death. As a result, even minor cases of anemia will be diagnosed and treated by doctors.

Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by a variety of underlying reasons, with more than one contributing to a person’s diagnosis. These can include the following:

Dietary intake

If the body does not get enough iron to replenish healthy RBCs, low dietary iron intake may cause symptoms. Anemia may be more common in people who follow certain diets, such as vegans, or who do not consciously consume enough iron-rich foods.

Other vitamin deficiencies

Even with a high-iron diet, a person who is deficient in other vitamins is at risk of developing iron deficiency anemia. B vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 or vitamin B9, also known as folic acid or folate, are also common and can affect iron absorption.

Malabsorption

Even a high iron intake may not be enough to balance iron levels if the body cannot use iron efficiently, such as owing to a gastrointestinal condition. As a result of health problems that affect iron absorption, iron deficiency anemia can cause as a side effect.

Erythropoietin deficiency

The hormone erythropoietin (EPO) is produced by the kidneys. EPO aids in the formation and repair of red blood cells. Iron deficiency anemia can be caused by conditions that alter EPO levels. Kidney diseases and hormone-related disorders are examples of these problems.

Bleeding

Anemia can develop if a person loses enough healthy RBCs as a result of bleeding. As the skin ages and thins, external bleeding is more frequent, making cuts and scratches more likely. It’s also possible that these wounds and scrapes will take longer to heal.

Internal bleeding, such as ulcers or stomach or intestine problems, can lower the quantity of healthy RBCs in the body and cause iron deficiency anemia. Internal bleeding can cause as a result of trauma or injury, resulting in blood loss.

Internal bleeding is a risk with some drugs or combinations of medications, especially when used for a long time. People in medical care who require regular testing may be subjected to a high number of blood draws, which could exacerbate the problem.

In many people, bleeding may be a contributing reason to RBC depletion and anemia. According to a 2018 study, the most common cause of iron deficiency anemia in elderly people is bleeding from drugs and underlying diseases.

Medications

The RBC count can be affected by a variety of drugs. Medications that impact the kidneys or hormones can cause the formation of RBCs by causing chemical imbalances.

Medications that disrupt digestion might make it difficult for the body to metabolize iron and other important vitamins like B vitamins. Chemotherapy medications, for example, can harm the bone marrow, which is crucial for producing healthy RBCs. Some drug combinations may have unknown side effects that affect how the body creates or uses RBCs.

It is recommended that people review the probable side effects of a drug and speak with a doctor about the probability of a drug creating signs of iron deficiency anemia.

H. pylori infection

Some infections might cause the body’s ability to utilise iron. According to a 2019 study, Helicobacter pylori infections are widespread in the elderly, affecting up to 50% of people over the age of 60. Anemia is one of the complications of H. pylori infections.

Chronic diseases

Chronic illnesses can cause a variety of problems in the body, including problems with RBCs and other systems involved in the production or usage of RBCs. Here are a few examples:

  • cancers
  • ulcers
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • conditions in the intestines or stomach

When rendering a diagnosis, doctors will take into account any underlying disorders.

Inflammatory disorders

Chronic inflammation in the body can be caused by a variety of factors. Inflammation can interfere with basic activities like RBC production, depending on the nature and location of the inflammation. Anyone with a chronic inflammatory condition or another issue that causes long-term inflammation should talk to their doctor about their risk.

Symptoms

Anemia symptoms differ from person to person, but here are a few frequent ones:

  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • chest pain

Light-skinned people may notice that their complexion becomes paler or slightly yellow.

Diagnosis

Blood tests will be used to determine anemia.

A complete blood count (CBC) test can assist determine the different types of blood cells and other blood components, such as hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein. A low hemoglobin count can imply anemia and a low RBC count.

A packed cell volume (PCV) test may also be used to determine hematocrit levels. The percentage of RBCs in the blood is measured by the hematocrit level. A PCV test can reveal whether a person has too few RBCs, indicating anemia.

Doctors may employ follow-up testing in addition to blood tests to look for other important anemia-related issues. A C-reactive protein test to search for inflammatory indicators or a reticulocyte count to assess bone marrow production may be performed. They may also look for the following things:

  • abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract
  • blood in the urine or stool
  • H. pylori infection
  • sufficient levels of B vitamins
  • kidney function

Treatment

Depending on the underlying cause and degree of anemia, doctors may offer several treatment options. Because various causes may be contributing to the condition, treatment will differ from case to case.

To raise the person’s iron levels, a doctor may prescribe supplemental iron in the form of medications, dietary iron, or intravenous iron.

If anemia is caused by an underlying condition, the doctor will seek condition for it. This may help them uncover other underlying causes of anemia or resolve the anemia.

If a doctor feels a prescription or a combination of medications is causing anemia, they may suggest alternate treatments if they are available. Alternatively, they may offer alternative methods of managing anemia until the person is able to stop using the medicine.

Management and suggestions

A person with iron deficiency anemia must ensure that their diet contains enough iron and other essential minerals.

The following are some suggestions for doing so:

  • consuming more iron-rich meals such as dark leafy greens, meat, and beans
  • Iron absorption can be improved by eating foods high in vitamin C, B9, and B12
  • avoiding foods that may interfere with iron absorption, such as dairy and meals high in phytic acid
  • taking iron supplements with food can help to alleviate the burning sensation in the stomach

Conclusion

Iron deficiency anemia is frequent in elderly people, and it can be caused by a variety of reasons. Blood loss, nutritional deficiencies, medicines, underlying diseases, and malabsorption are all possible causes of iron deficiency anemia in this age range.

Individuals who are having iron deficiency anemia symptoms should consult a doctor for a diagnosis. The doctor should be able to advise you on how to boost your dietary iron intake or address any underlying issues that are preventing you from absorbing iron.

Sources:

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6745992/
  • https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12879-019-3849-y
  • https://www.hematology.org/education/patients/anemia/iron-deficiency
  • https://irondisorders.org/iron-deficiency-anemia/
  • https://irondisorders.org/elderly/
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/iron-deficiency-anemia-in-elderly
  • https://gut.bmj.com/content/70/11/2030.info
  • https://ashpublications.org/blood/article/131/5/505/104393