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Iron Deficiency in the Elderly

Many people are under the impression that being fatigued, weak & short of breath is a natural problem that is associated with aging.  According to research, however, this is simply not true.  Slowing down a bit is associated with aging, but not weakness or difficulty breathing, nor is fatigue that makes it difficult to accomplish daily tasks that were easily performed only months before.  In many cases, an iron deficiency is to blame.

Common symptoms of iron deficiency are: extreme fatigue, headaches/dizziness, difficulty breathing or the feeling of breathing through a mask, pallor to the skin, irregular heartbeat, dry skin & hair, sores or swelling of mouth & tongue, cold hands & feet, brittle nails (spoon-shaped in very severe cases), desire to chew ice, etc.  This list of symptoms is not comprehensive & if you suspect that you have an iron deficiency, you should look up other lists  that are more detailed for further information.

Once you determine whether low iron could be a suspect, the simplest way to confirm is through a simple blood test.  Have your blood drawn by your primary care doctor.  Ask them to check your hemoglobin levels.  When the results are in, ask for the specific numbers.  In women a hemoglobin level lower than 12 is cause for concern.  In men, 13 is the normal number.   If the numbers are in the 10-11 range, perhaps a simple supplement is in order.  If they are are lower than that, you need to ask your doctor WHY?.  Many people (doctors included) do not ask that question, especially in elderly adults.  Many figure that if the person has figured out how to live in this way for so many years, they can continue. But your quality of life can be greatly improved by tackling this particular issue.  Imagine being able to walk up stairs without becoming short of breath.  Imagine having motivation to volunteer, or to work on the projects that you've laid aside because you've been so fatigued lately.  Imagine not worrying about your heart because of heart palpitations.  Imagine not feeling anxious for no apparent reason.  All of these things could be improved if you were to get your iron levels back to the normal levels!  So ask, “Why are my iron levels this low?”  Also ask, “What can we do about it?”

If you have gastrointestinal issues, discuss those with your doctor, as they can lead to anemia of this kind.  Your low iron could be caused by bleeding somewhere in your body.  In this case, treatment would include fixing the bleeding issue, as well as ramping up your iron through other means.

Iron supplements are almost always a part of your treatment.  If you need to raise your iron levels faster than that, often-times iron infusions are prescribed by the doctor.  They generally take between 1 to 1.5 hours & simply drip into your system through an IV.  It will help raise your levels, but this too, will take time & you could likely need multiple infusions over the course of weeks to get you on track.  If your levels are dangerously low, you may also need a blood transfusion to raise the levels more quickly. This used to be a scary & risky procedure, but with advances in medicine, it is not longer either of those & is, in fact, becoming quite commonplace.

In conclusion, do not let any of your symptoms continue un-checked.  It is not necessary to live with extreme fatigue or other symptoms described above.  If you suspect any of these things, be sure to have a discussion with your doctor.  Get to the bottom of the issue and start feeling better!


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