How common are low iron levels?
In the US, iron deficiency is most common in women of childbearing age, affecting about 10% to 15% of women this age.22 It is rare in men and postmenopausal women. Non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American women have approximately twice the risk of iron deficiency compared with non-Hispanic white women (19% to 22% vs 10%).22 Iron-deficiency anemia – a condition where your blood can't properly transport oxygen around the body – is even less common, affecting only about 4% of women of childbearing age.22 Mexican-American women are more than 2 times more likely to develop iron deficiency anemia than white women.23, 24 Anemia may develop for many different reasons, but iron deficiency is the most common cause.
Do low iron levels affect my risk of heart disease?
If your iron levels are extremely low, you likely have a condition known as anemia. Anemia is diagnosed by testing the blood's hemoglobin level and hematocrit (a measure of the number and size of red blood cells). Common symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, pale skin, rapid heart beat, and feeling cold. Anemia is associated with increased heart disease risk, especially in women. 25 Long-term iron deficiency anemia alone rarely causes death, but it can starve the heart and other tissues of oxygen.26 The heart then has to pump harder to circulate this oxygen-poor blood, which can cause undue stress and strain on the heart.25 In patients with heart disease, anemia (from any cause) appears to increase the risk of dying from a heart attack or having poor outcomes after heart procedures including bypass surgery and balloon angioplasty.26, 27
How will pregnancy affect the amount of iron my body needs?
During pregnancy, a women needs about twice as much iron as usual because of the needs of the baby and in preparation for the blood loss during delivery.8, 28 Not surprisingly, pregnant women have a higher risk of iron-deficiency anemia, which can increase the risk of preterm delivery and low birthweight.29, 30 Once the baby is born, a woman's risk of iron deficiency is about 13% in the first 6 months, gradually dropping to 8% between 13 and 24 months after giving birth. Giving birth several times also increases the risk of iron deficiency.23,31