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What happens to your body when you have iron deficiency?

Do you feel tired all day even with sufficient rest or experiencing shortness of breath? You may be deficient in an important mineral required for body functions – iron.

These changes can be gradual or rapid, making you feel grumpy, weak or tired, and cause issues in concentration. Iron is involved in important body functions including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen and helps maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.

Iron deficiency is common in pregnant women, those who experience heavy periods, people with GI disorders, or those who do not eat an iron-rich diet. Symptoms of low iron can be visible in pale skin and nails, unexplained weakness, fatigue or lack of energy, shortness of breath, and headache among others.

“Iron deficiency is a widespread nutritional insufficiency affecting individuals worldwide, with significant implications for health. Recognizing the key signs of iron deficiency is essential for early detection and prompt intervention to prevent further health complications,” says Dr Aditya S Chowti, Senior consultant, Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, Bengaluru.

Dr Chowti shares iron-deficiency symptoms in detail in an interview with HT Digital.



Fatigue and weakness are among the most prevalent indicators of iron deficiency. Individuals may experience persistent feelings of tiredness and weakness, even after obtaining adequate rest. This fatigue stems from reduced haemoglobin levels, which impairs the blood’s ability to transport oxygen efficiently throughout the body.

Pale skin and nails

This is another prominent sign of iron deficiency. A pallid complexion, particularly noticeable in facial features, lips, and nail beds, may indicate decreased haemoglobin levels, resulting in diminished oxygenation of tissues and organs.

Shortness of breath

This can also occur due to iron deficiency. Insufficient iron levels lead to reduced oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood, causing individuals to experience breathlessness, especially during physical exertion or strenuous activities.


Headaches and dizziness are common symptoms associated with iron deficiency. Inadequate iron levels can lead to vascular changes and impaired oxygen delivery to the brain, resulting in headaches, light-headedness, and dizziness, particularly when standing up quickly.

Cold hands and feet

They may also indicate iron deficiency. Reduced blood oxygenation due to insufficient iron levels can impair circulation, leading to cold extremities, such as hands and feet, even in warm environments.

Dry hair and brittle nails

Brittle hair and nails are additional signs of iron deficiency. Dry, brittle hair and nails that are prone to breakage and splitting may result from inadequate iron levels, which affect the health and strength of hair follicles and nail beds.

Urge to move legs

Restless legs syndrome, characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, especially at night, is another manifestation of iron deficiency. This condition can disrupt sleep patterns and affect overall well-being.

Concentration issues

Difficulty concentrating and memory problems may arise due to inadequate iron levels, impacting cognitive function and productivity.

Craving for non-food items like chalk or soap

Furthermore, iron deficiency can lead to cravings for non-food substances, a condition known as pica, and increase susceptibility to infections and illnesses due to its role in supporting a healthy immune system.

Recognising these signs prompts timely intervention and treatment for iron deficiency, emphasizing the importance of maintaining adequate iron levels for overall health and well-being.