According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, one in five American women of childbearing age suffer from iron-deficiency anemia due to everything from poor diets to heavy periods. Because iron deficiency is so common among women in the U.S., you're probably at least somewhat familiar with the wealth of information out there focusing on how to tell if your body needs more iron. Fatigue, unusually pale skin, weakness, difficulty focusing, chest pain, and headaches are just a few of the more commonly reported signs that you have an iron deficiency. What you might not know, however, is that there are also some really weird signs that your body needs more iron that are pretty easy to mistake for symptoms of other health problems.
If you think you might have an iron deficiency, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it. Though some cases of iron deficiency anemia are so mild they don't even really show symptoms, any level of iron deficiency isn't something you should take lightly. Without iron, our bodies can't create hemoglobin, and hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body via red blood cells. When the body doesn't have enough iron to create hemoglobin, it doesn't get the oxygen it needs, and it starts creating fewer and fewer red blood cells, which can lead to some serious trouble. Iron is super important to your overall health, so keep an eye out for these weird signs that you might have an iron deficiency.
1. You Have Brittle Nails Or "Spoon Nails"
If your nails are super brittle, it could just mean you're leaving your nail polish on for too long. That said, as Prevention reported back in 2015, brittle nails can also indicate that your body is low on iron. "Spoon Nails," which is simply a term for nails that dip down in the middle like a spoon, are also a sign of iron deficiency that you shouldn't ignore. However, it's worth noting that "spoon nails" can also be caused by a jammed finger and/or exposure to petroleum-based solvents, so ultimately a blood test will be needed to determine whether or not your nail issues are directly related to your iron levels.
2. You've Been Craving Clay, Chalk, Dirt, Or Ice
Pica, which is the general medical term assigned to the frequent craving of non-food items, is a huge sign that you're dealing with an iron deficiency. According to Everyday Health, scientists still aren't 100 percent sure why people with low iron crave clay, dirt, and chalk — because ingesting these substances actually interferes with iron absorption in the body — but iron supplements usually help with pica cravings.
Though it's unclear why low iron causes such odd cravings, doctors do have a theory on why people with iron deficiencies crave ice so much. As Prevention put it back in 2015, iron-deficient people who crave ice almost constantly, (a specific form of pica which is called pagophagia, by the way), probably chew on ice as much as they do because it helps them stay alert. Since low iron messes with your ability to focus, and causes fatigue, it's not a bad theory. That said, if you like munching on ice once in a while, that doesn't necessarily mean you have low iron or pagophagia — people with pagophagia can go through pounds of ice cubes per day.
3. You're Losing Lots Of Hair
Low iron isn't the only thing that can cause women to lose their hair. Extreme stress, birth control pills, thyroid problems, and even certain hair styling methods can contribute to hair loss. So if you feel like you're losing more than 100 strands of hair per day, (which is the average number of hairs we lose every single day, apparently), that doesn't automatically mean you're body is low on iron.
However, you should still consider getting your iron levels checked out if you're losing a lot of hair, because iron deficiency does cause hair loss. Since low iron deprives hair follicles of the oxygen they need, they can end up going into a resting state. When hair follicles go into a resting state, hairs falls out and won't grow back until the body's iron levels have improved.
4. You've Been Getting Sick A Lot
Our immune systems can't really function without iron. So if you've been getting sick way more than normal lately, then you should know that iron deficiency might be to blame. Not only does low iron prevent red blood cells from carrying oxygen to infection-fighting body parts like the spleen and lymph nodes, it also keeps new white blood cells from forming. On top of all that, low iron will cause any white blood cells that already exist in the lymph nodes to grow weak from lack of oxygen.
5. Your Tongue Is Swollen
If your tongue is super tender and so swollen that it looks like all your taste buds have disappeared, then you might have atrophic glossitis. Atrophic glossitis is one medical term for a swollen tongue, and iron deficiency is one condition that can cause it.
Sometimes food allergies and certain medications can cause the tongue to swell too, so if your tongue is swollen that doesn't necessarily mean you have low iron. But if your tongue is super-swollen and you're not sure why, as with all of these symptoms, going to a doctor to get your blood tested for low iron is probably a good idea.
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