Anemia is a prevalent health issue these days. With decreasing nutritional foods in our diet and lack of organic fruits and vegetables, it was very much predicted that there will be consequences, including several nutritional deficiencies, and also seniors should take iron supplements. Let’s begin with the basics.
What exactly is anemia?
Anemia is a condition that occurs when your body lacks enough healthy red blood cells and, further, fails to carry an adequate amount of oxygen to your body’s tissues. It can lead to constant fatigue and weakness. A blood test is the easiest way to diagnose an iron deficiency or anemia. However, there are various ways that your doctor might use to recognize the underlying cause(s) of it.
Anemia in the elderly is quite common and can cause serious complications ranging from the decreased physical performance, and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases to falls and fractures. It can represent a mild chronic issue that is not concern-worthy at all, and it can also represent a life-threatening emergency! Hence, it should not be taken lightly.
It is worrisome that a majority of people do not know about anemia at all, let alone take it seriously! However, in this article, you will learn more about the symptoms and causes of anemia and how much iron a senior needs, along with the side effects of iron supplements.
What are the common symptoms of iron deficiency?
Note that mild anemia is very common, which means that your hemoglobin level is not very low. In such a case, symptoms may not even exist. But in most cases, there are some very commonly noticed symptoms of anemia or iron deficiency, most of which are: headaches, weakness, low blood pressure, fatigue, high heart rate, becoming/looking paler than usual, shortness of breath, etc. If you have most of these symptoms, it is suggested that you get a blood test done and consult a doctor because it is very likely that you have an iron deficiency. He/she can suggest to you how to treat your anemia and the best source of iron supplements.
Two crucial factors that define the severity of the symptoms are:
A. How long did it take for the hemoglobin to drop at this level?
B. How low is the hemoglobin level?
Common Causes of Iron Deficiency
In the elderly, it is very common for anemia to have more than one underlying cause at the same time. In short, we can categorize the causes into two parts:
A. An issue in the production of red blood cells and/or
B. An issue causing loss of red blood cells
Issues in producing RBCs
These include issues related to the bone marrow, where the RBCs are made initially. Common causes include:
A) Lack of vitamins needed for the production of red blood cells, i.e., Vitamin B12 and Folate.
B) Bone marrow disorders – any disorder that affects the bone marrow or the blood cells, can interfere with the production of red blood cells.
C) Iron deficiency is prevalent among vegetarians and people who don’t consume much meat. It is also prevalent in young women, usually because of heavy periods and excessive blood loss.
D) Chemotherapy can also affect bone marrow cells that are responsible for the production of red blood cells.
Issues causing loss of RBCs
Blood loss is a very obvious cause of anemia. This can happen suddenly and quickly, and it can also happen slowly and over time, which can worsen anemia. Some examples are given below: Frequent blood draws are a massive problem for people admitted into hospitals who are getting their blood drawn every day. Major injuries can cause a lot of blood loss. Most of the time, this blood loss is visible. But, internal bleeding is way more difficult to recognize and treat.
Menstrual bleeding is usually a younger women’s cause, but it does affect older women occasionally.
Stomach cancer and bowel cancer can be common reasons too.
How to treat anemia?
Anemia can be treated in various ways- by adding more iron-rich food to your diet, taking iron supplements for the elderly, etc. You can include some foods in your diet like meat, tuna, eggs, shrimp, poultry, tofu, spinach, beans, brown rice, broccoli, oysters, etc.
The main question that arises is should people over 50 take iron supplements. Most often not! However, it depends from person to person and body to body. So, the best way to know is to ask your doctor.
Dosage of iron supplements for elderly
Around and after the age of 50, a woman’s requirement for iron drastically drops. After menopause, both men and women require the same amount of iron- 8mg a day. To learn about the best iron supplements for seniors, do more research or talk to your doctor. The recommended dosages of iron supplements for senior citizens are 8mg per day for individuals who are around 50 years old | and a dosage of 300mg ferrous sulfate every 12 hours for the treatment of severe anemia.
Note: It should be noted that this is a mere estimate of the amount. Do not consume any iron supplement without your doctor’s approval.
Side effects of iron supplements in elderly
There is no exact limit for iron consumption for anyone. But, there are severe dangers in taking an extra amount of iron, including increased risk for diseases like various types of cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Excess to iron can also lead to chronic pain and arthritis since it negatively affects your joints. It has also been confirmed that there is a correlation between excess iron levels and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. That is why it is usually suggested that diet change is the best way to moderate and regulate your iron intake.
If you decide to go with iron supplements, keep in mind that there are some side effects even with average amounts. Some common side-effects are:
a) Dark stools
c) Stomach aches
f) Urine discolouration