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Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy: let’s learn about it to prevent its causes

What should you do in cases of iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy? What are the iron values that need to be kept under control? Let’s examine the causes and symptoms of sideropenic anaemia (iron deficiency anaemia) during pregnancy

Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy: what causes it?

Haemoglobin is a protein present in red blood cells and allows them to transport oxygen (O2) from the lungs to the tissues and carbon dioxide (CO2) from peripheral tissues to the lungs. Anaemia occurs when there is a reduction in haemoglobin below normal levels. 

The normal values of haemoglobin (Hb) in the blood are as follows:

Men: 13.4 – 17.5 g/dL 

Women: 12 – 15.5 g/dL 

Pregnant women: 11 – 14 g/dL

Given that the synthesis of haemoglobin is regulated by the amount of iron in the blood, a reduction in the amount of haemoglobin can also occur if there is an iron deficiency in the body. This type of anaemia is known as sideropenic anaemia because it is caused by a deficiency of iron in the body. 

In addition to iron deficiency anaemia, there are other types of anaemia, not always related to an iron deficiency in the blood. Some anaemias such as thalassaemias (e.g., Mediterranean anaemia, Fanconi anaemia or sickle-cell anaemia) have genetic causes, whilst in other cases, anaemias can be caused by autoimmune diseases, tumours or infections (e.g., malaria). From here on, we will deal specifically with iron deficiency anaemia.

Causes of iron deficiency in the body

An iron deficiency can be caused by:

  • Reduced or poor iron intake through diet;
  • Conditions that reduce the absorption of nutrients (including iron) in the intestine;
  • Physiological conditions characterised by increased iron requirements (growth, pregnancy, breastfeeding) or blood loss (menstrual cycle in women of childbearing age);
  • Trauma or intestinal pathology leading to bleeding.

In most cases, iron deficiency is a condition that sets in slowly. The body puts in place various mechanisms to combat sideropenia and to maintain the normal blood values of iron. However, when the iron reserves in the body are not sufficient to maintain the balance of this mineral in the body, we can see a progressive reduction of sideropenia (concentration of circulating iron related to transferrin) and ferritinaemia. Another value that is monitored in order to assess the blood iron level (the balance and metabolism of iron in the body) is that of transferrin, a protein that binds the iron and transports it into the body. 

What are the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy?

Iron deficiency anaemia can occur without relevant clinical symptoms and is detected through blood tests. This happens because it is often a condition that sets in slowly and, until the iron reserves in the body are significantly reduced, the characteristic symptoms do not appear. Pregnancy requires an increased bodily need for iron and, therefore, it is possible that a previous iron deficiency may become more pronounced during the gestation period and typical symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia emerge:

  • General fatigue (asthenia);
  • Pale skin and mucous membranes;
  • Headaches and migraines;
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, even at rest;
  • Irritability;
  • Increased fragility of skin, nails and hair;
  • Difficulty resting;
  • Tachycardia;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Dizziness and vertigo;

Iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy: what should you do?

During pregnancy, it is particularly important to keep blood levels of iron and haemoglobin under control to prevent the development of sideropenic anaemia. 

Low haemoglobin values can lead to fatigue and asthenia. An iron deficiency in the mother, especially in the last trimester of pregnancy, can also be the cause of reduced iron deposits in the unborn child. 
In cases of sideropenia during pregnancy, the doctor will assess the most suitable therapy to bring the iron values in the body back to normal, through a diet with iron-rich foods and any specific food supplements.

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