WHAT IS Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA)?

There are many different types of anemia, but Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) is a condition resulting from too little iron in the body which leads to too little oxygen in the body's blood cells. In America, despite food fortification, iron deficiency is on the rise in certain populations. Iron deficiency at critical times of growth and development can result in premature births, low birth weight babies, delayed growth and development, delayed normal infant activity and movement.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the world. It is estimated that at least two billion people worldwide are affected and at least 3.5 million Americans are anemic, but the actual number of people suffering from anemia is probably far greater. Unfortunately, anemia is often overlooked.

While anemia is not as recognized a diagnosis as cancer, for example, it has far-reaching implications on cardiovascular and overall health. Many individuals, including physicians, erroneously consider anemia to be a benign condition when, in fact, anemia can reduce quality of life and increase the risk of death. Anemia is associated with a wide array of health problems, including a reduced life expectancy, decreased ability to live independently, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, and worsening of dementia. Anemia may also be the first sign of a serious underlying disease such as cancer or nutritional deficiency. Unrecognized and untreated, these diseases can have serious consequences, even death.

Anemia can result in poor memory or cognitive skills (mental function) and can result in lower performance in school, work, and in military or recreational activities. Lower IQs have been linked to iron deficiency occurring during critical periods of growth.


Anemia is a condition that affects people across the age spectrum, from the newborn to the elderly. Women of childbearing age -- adolescent and adult females ages 12-49 -- are most at risk for developing IDA. African American and Hispanic women and their young children are prone to iron deficiency, possibly because of diet or perhaps different hemoglobin needs. Men are rarely iron deficient; but when they are, it is generally due to blood loss from the digestive tract (sometimes indicating disease), diseases that affect iron absorption, surgical procedures that affect iron absorption and in some cases, alcohol abuse. Except for those who are strict vegetarians, men rarely have dietary iron deficiency.