Overview of Anemia

Iron is an essential “building block” used by the body to synthesize hemoglobin and red blood cells. Thus, if iron levels in the body are low, the result is anemia. (low hemoglobin/hematocrit) There are other types of anemia that are not related to low iron, so accurate diagnosis is important. Low levels of iron in the body can be associated with lack of iron in the diet, excess loss of iron from the body (especially menstruating females), pregnancy, and poor absorption of iron from the diet (rare).

Signs & Symptoms

Often, mild iron deficiency anemia has no symptoms. More severe iron deficiency anemia can cause fatigue, weakness, and pale colored skin or mucous membranes.


Awareness of your own risk factors for developing iron deficiency anemia can help you focus on improving iron intake in your diet and being screened appropriately for anemia. Women are at higher risk for iron deficiency anemia due to menstrual blood loss and pregnancy. Some types of intrauterine devices (IUD) may increase the risk for anemia. People on special diets may be at higher risk. Peptic ulcer disease or too frequent use of aspirin, Advil or Aleve may increase the risk of losing blood and iron through the intestines. Good dietary sources of iron include beef, fish, chicken, liver and eggs. Vegetarian sources for iron include soybeans, peanut butter, raisins, oatmeal, greens/spinach, lentils, molasses and iron fortified cereals.


Treatment depends on accurate diagnosis. Iron in diet or vitamin pills won’t help if the anemia is not due to low iron. Various forms of iron supplements are available over the counter: ferrous sulfate, ferrous gluconate or chelated iron. Side effects can include stomach upset and constipation so you need to find a supplement that you can tolerate.

How We Can Help

  • If you would like to be seen by our medical staff, please contact our Appointment Desk to schedule an appointment.
  • Also, our Advice Nurse service is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss health concerns and the need for medical care.
  • Lab testing done at SHCS can accurately determine if you have anemia and if it is due to low iron. If symptoms are not due to low iron then other causes can be investigated. Women with heavy periods reduce the risk of iron deficiency by using a birth control pill.
  • Our dietitian can be consulted to help you to optimize your dietary iron intake.