What is iron deficiency anemia (IDA)?

What is iron deficiency anemia (IDA)?

A common condition

Iron deficiency occurs in people the world over, and is the number one cause of anemia.1 It comes on when the body is called upon to use more iron than it has in storage. When this happens, the blood lacks an adequate supply of healthy red blood cells. It's these cells that need iron to make a substance called hemoglobin, which enables the cells to carry oxygen to the tissues. It's not unusual for women in their childbearing years to develop IDA, since more iron than usual is required during pregnancy and lost during menstruation.2 People who take aspirin regularly are also more likely to have chronic gastrointestinal bleeding. Other conditions can also result in gastrointestinal bleeding or poor iron absorption.3


In addition to eating a diet rich in iron, people with iron deficiency often take an oral iron supplement under the direction of their doctor. A variety of oral iron formulations are available. Don't assume they are all the same! The method of absorption and the other ingredients all play a role in the effectiveness of the product in treating IDA.


The body has built-in mechanisms through which it tries to maintain enough iron to meet its needs. It all starts with the food we eat. Maintaining a diet rich in iron can help to prevent iron deficiency anemia. This, of course, can be easier said than done, especially by vegetarians. But planning ahead can help keep the diet in balance.

1 Huebers HA, Brittenham GM, Csiba E, Finch CA. Absorption of carbonyl iron. J Lab Clin Med. 1986;108(5):473-478.

2 Barton JC. Iron deficiency. In: Rakel RE, Bope ET, eds. Conn’s Current Therapy. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Saunders/Elsevier; 2008:385-389.

3 Johnson-Wimbley TD, Graham DY. Diagnosis and management of iron deficiency anemia in the 21st century. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2011;4(3):177-184.