Extreme Fatigue and Exhaustion
The principle sign that your body is not getting enough iron may be the most difficult to link to iron deficiency.
“This is one of the most common signs of iron deficiency because it means your body is having trouble carrying the oxygen to your cells so it’s affecting your energy levels,” Thayer says.
Iron plays a key role in a healthy immune system, so lower levels of the mineral can make someone more susceptible to infections. “Red blood cells help to transport oxygen to the spleen, which is one place where infections can be fought off,” Dr. Murr says.
Red blood cells also carry oxygen to the lymph nodes, which house infection-fighting white blood cells. “When someone has an iron deficiency, the white blood cells aren’t being produced as well, and they’re not as strong because they’re not getting enough oxygen, making that person more susceptible to infections,” she says.
Though it’s not always the case, pale skin is often associated with being sick, and there’s good reason for that. Hemoglobin gives skin its rosy color, so low levels cause the skin to become lighter.
“When red blood cells become low with iron, they become smaller and paler in the center so skin also becomes paler,” Murr says. This may be easier to detect in people with lighter complexions, but no matter what your skin tone, if the area inside your bottom eyelid is lighter than normal, this may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Lack of oxygen can also cause muscles to enlarge and become painful. “It happens to all the muscles really, but the tongue is the only one you can see,” Murr says. Cracks on the side of the mouth are also common among people with iron deficiency.