If you think you have an iron deficiency you should see a doctor. Your doctor will investigate your medical history, carry out a physical exam and request blood tests to determine the severity of the condition. A mild iron deficiency may show no outward symptoms and may only be picked up through routine blood tests.
When conducting a physical exam a doctor may:
- Listen to your heart to check for an irregular heartbeat
- Check for rapid or uneven breathing
- Press on your abdomen to feel for changes in spleen or liver size
- Carry our a rectal exam to check for unusual breathing
- Investigate possible gastrointestinal blood loss due to parasitic infection
In addition to physical exams a doctor might ask a number of questions about:
- Your menstrual cycle
- Your diet
- Any gastrointestinal disturbances or regular bouts of constipation
- Recent blood loss (possibly from nosebleeds or frequent blood donations).
Blood tests to support the diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia include:
Serum iron – This test measure the quantity of iron in the blood. Sometimes the levels of iron in your blood may be normal even if the total amount of iron in your body is low overall.
Transferrin saturation – Transferrin is a protein that shuttles iron around the body, when a transferrin protein is bound with iron it is classed as ‘saturated’. Measuring the saturation determines how many transferrin proteins are not carrying iron.
Iron binding capacity – The approximate estimation of the serum transferrin level, this measurement is not exact as not all iron is bound by transferrin. The test is performed by saturating the blood sample with a high amount of iron. All the iron not bound to transferrin is removed and from this reading an estimation of the capacity of transferrin to bind iron can be worked out.
Hemoglobin – The level of hemoglobin is useful for determining the severity of iron deficiency.
Ferritin – Ferritin is a protein that stores iron, a measure of ferritin indicates how much iron is stored in the body. Ferritin levels can also indicate inflammation or anemia of chronic disease.
Blood tests for hair loss.
Diagnosing an iron deficiency can be difficult as biomarkers and severity of symptoms vary between patients.