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Underdiagnosed Iron Deficiency Contributing to Fatigue and Cognitive Issues in Young Women

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A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and reported by NBC News has shed light on a concerning issue affecting adolescent girls and young women in the United States. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School have found that nearly 40% of teenage girls and young women in  America have low levels of iron, which can lead to fatigue, brain fog, and concentration problems.  

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were evaluated during a twenty-year period. Anemia owing to iron deficiency was found in 6% of the sample. The findings did not surprise the study’s principal author, pediatric hematologist-oncologist Dr. Angela Weyand. She believes that iron deficiency is more common than previously thought, based on the large number of referrals she receives from general care physicians and pediatricians who assume their patients have the illness. Unfortunately, the results confirmed her suspicions. 

One of the study’s key concerns is the failure to appropriately detect iron deficiency. Women of reproductive age should get their blood checked for anemia every five to ten years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, doctors seldom test for iron deficiency. Instead, they’re looking for anemia. This makes detecting anemia in the general population challenging. Doctors frequently fail to check for ferritin, a blood protein that reflects the amount of stored iron, in patients with iron-insufficiency anemia or other signs of iron deficiency. 

Iron deficiency is commonly misdiagnosed because its symptoms, such as sleepiness, are similar to those of other disorders. Dr. Weyand mentions frequent symptoms as weariness, shivers down the arms and legs, hair loss, brittle nails, cognitive difficulties (such as brain fog), poor athletic performance, shortness of breath when exercising, a need for junk food, dizziness, headaches, and disrupted sleep. The data revealed that iron deficiency affected even females who had not yet begun menstruation, indicating that it is more common than previously thought. 

Iron deficiency is common in women and girls, especially those who have heavy periods. Even if the monthly flow is within the normal range, iron levels may decline due to blood loss during menstruation. Dr. Rachel Bercovitz, an associate pediatrics professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, compares the body’s iron storage to a bank account. Low hemoglobin levels cause symptoms when iron reserves are depleted owing to insufficient iron intake. 

Iron deficiency causes weariness and difficulty to concentrate, which can have serious consequences for a teen’s academic and extracurricular achievement. Because of the taboo and discomfort associated with discussing menstruation, many young women and girls may be unaware that having unusually heavy periods is abnormal. It is critical to openly discuss menstruation in order to diagnose iron deficits. 

Maintaining appropriate iron levels can be done in a variety of ways. Iron deficiency anemia can be treated by eating more meat and dark green vegetables, cooking using cast-iron pots and pans, or taking iron supplements. Iron is also found in eggs, seafood (such as tuna or sardines), tofu, and legumes. Taking an iron supplement every other day can benefit those with mild iron deficiency and anemia, as well as reduce the risk of adverse effects such as stomach discomfort and metallic taste. Take iron supplements with a glass of orange juice and avoid calcium-rich meals to enhance iron absorption. 

Some women find that using birth control tablets or other methods reduces their monthly bleeding. Because ferritin levels are not frequently checked, women must advocate for themselves and raise their concerns with medical practitioners. The iron deficiency must be made known to young women and girls so that it may be recognized and treated as soon as possible. Taking charge of one’s health and well-being is attainable when one is aware of the warning signs and the need of keeping enough iron levels. 

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