Consequences of Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency adversely affects pregnancy, impairs early childhood development and cognitive function, and reduces the ability to do physical work. These serious problems are almost exclusively associated with iron deficiency severe enough to cause anemia; however, small reductions in exercise capacity, detectable in a laboratory setting, are also detectable in women with low iron stores and no anemia.

Physical work capacity Iron deficiency anemia adversely affects physical work capacity, reflecting the element's key role in oxygen and energy utilization. Maximal oxygen consumption during exercise is reduced, in association with decreased muscle myoglobin and other iron-containing enzymes. Iron supplementation has improved productivity among Guatemalan sugar and coffee plantation workers, Indian tea pickers, and Indonesian road construction workers and rubber tappers. Iron supplementation programs are clearly cost-effective in addition to providing a positive impact on human health and well-being.

Cognitive development In infants, iron deficiency anemia has been associated with reduced mental and motor test scores and behavioral changes such as being more hesitant and wary. This impaired mental and motor functioning appears to persist after treatment with iron, emphasizing the need for early detection and treatment and preferably prevention of iron deficiency during early development.

Reproduction Iron deficiency anemia has been associated with greater perinatal maternal and infant mortality, premature birth, and low birth weight. Iron supplementation during pregnancy has not been completely effective in preventing maternal anemia, leading to suggestions for promoting adequate iron stores in all women of child-bearing age prior to conception.

Other Iron deficiency increases the susceptibility to lead poisoning. It may also impair resistance to infection and regulation of body temperature. Iron deficiency has been associated with the eating of non-food material (pica) or ice (pagophagia). Clinical signs may include spoon-shaped fingernails and abnormalities of the mucosa of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.

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