Iron Deficiency vs. Iron Deficiency Anemia: What’s the difference?

Red blood cells
Red blood cells

Iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. They’re basically the same thing—right? Not so fast.

While iron deficiency is a common cause of iron deficiency anemia, the two aren’t always interchangeable. That’s why we’re explaining the difference between them, the causes of each, and how to treat them. 

Why do we need iron? 

Let’s start here. Iron is a mineral that helps your body produce hemoglobin—a substance in red blood cells that allows them to carry oxygen all over the body. Oxygen is crucial for your body’s function (duh). It powers your cells so you can stay energized and healthy. 

There are a few different ways to get iron, from food to iron supplements. Typically, your body absorbs the iron and stores it away for later. But what if those stores are getting used up faster than they can be refilled? That’s when iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia come into play. 

What’s the difference between being anemic and being iron deficient?

If you’re iron deficient, it simply means your body has a low iron count. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide. In fact, it is estimated that up to 25% of the world’s population suffers from low iron.

If you’re anemic, it means your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the parts that need it. Iron deficiency anemia is therefore a type of anemia—and the most common type, at that. 

Still with us? Okay good. 

Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency anemia happen gradually over time and can include:

  • Fatigue and weakness 
  • Pale or yellow skin 
  • Cold hands and feet 
  • Dizziness
  • Headache 
  • Chest pain 
  • Shortness of breath and fast heart rate 
  • Brittle or spoon nails 
  • Cracks at the corners of your mouth 
  • Sore tongue 
  • Pounding or “whooshing” sound in your ear 

It’s important to see a doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms. They can provide a diagnosis and a treatment plan that makes sense for your unique body. 

Can you have iron deficiency without anemia and vice versa?

Yes—you can have iron deficiency or anemia independently from each other. However, iron deficiency will always lead to anemia if it’s not treated effectively. That’s because over time, iron deficiency is causing your body to use up all of its iron stores. 

On the flip side, there are many types of anemia that aren’t caused by iron deficiency. For example:

  • Pernicious anemia: Your body can’t absorb vitamin B12.
  • Sickle cell anemia: A hereditary condition that changes the shape of your red blood cells.
  • Hemolytic anemia: Your red blood cells die faster than they’re supposed to.
  • And the list goes on. 

What are the 3 stages of iron deficiency anemia?

As we now know, iron deficiency can gradually turn into iron deficiency anemia. It does this over 3 stages.

Stage 1: Your iron stores are depleted and there isn’t a lot of new iron coming in. Fortunately, your red blood cells haven’t been affected quite yet.

Stage 2: The normal process of red blood cell production—AKA erythropoiesis—starts to break down. This is called iron-deficient erythropoiesis. It means your bone marrow is making red blood cells without an adequate amount of hemoglobin. 

Stage 3: Uh oh. Your body officially doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin. This causes your hemoglobin concentration to drop below the healthy range, leading to—you guessed it—iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of anemia will become more obvious and concerning at this stage. 

What causes iron deficiency anemia?

There are several factors that can contribute to iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. 

Poor diet. This one’s simple—not eating enough iron can lead to low iron. 

Menstruation. The loss of blood cells every month can make it harder for oxygen to get to your tissues. Blood loss from injury or blood testing can also cause iron deficiency. 

Pregnancy. You’ll need more iron than usual to support yourself and the baby. That means iron can get used up quicker. During pregnancy, 40% of women will become anemic and 25%  will be related to iron deficiency. 

Infant growth and diet. Babies run out of the iron they absorbed during pregnancy around month 4. After that point, they might be at risk for having iron deficiency—especially if they are only breastfed or drink unfortified formula. 

Childhood or teenage growth spurts. The body suddenly needs a lot more nutrients than it used to. This abrupt change can use up iron faster than it’s being consumed. 

Old age. Adults over 65 often eat less food and therefore get less iron in their diets. 

Digestive conditions, like celiac, inflammatory bowel disease, or Chrohn’s disease

What causes anemia other than iron deficiency?

Anemia isn’t always tied to iron. It can be caused by other nutritional deficiencies like B12 or B9. Anemia can also be caused by genetic disorders that impact red blood cells, bone marrow, or other parts of the blood. This includes abnormal red blood cells—as in, too big, too weak, too quick to die, too small, too many, or not enough. 

How do you treat iron-deficiency anemia? 

As with most nutritional deficiencies, there isn’t one quick fix. But anemia treatment supplements will typically be one of your doctor’s first recommendations. The only problem? Most iron supplements come with nasty gastrointestinal side effects. 

Not Ferosom Forte. This vegan iron supplement has a proprietary LCE Coat™ that protects it from acid breakdown as it moves through the stomach. That means more iron gets absorbed into your body, and less gets dissolved into your gastro-intestinal tract. 

Ferosom Forte also has one of the highest absorption rates available. Why? It’s microencapsulated in Liposomal form and infused with vitamin C to boost absorption even higher. 

The bioavailability of liposomal iron is 3.5 times greater than the free pyrophosphate iron, 2.7 times higher than iron sulfate, and 4.1 times higher compared with iron gluconate. In other words, this supplement is specifically designed for max iron absorption. 

If you or someone you love struggles with iron deficiency or iron deficiency anemia, Ferosom Forte might be the solution they’ve been looking for. Learn more.