Frequently asked questions
Will the blood test hurt?
The blood test should not hurt. You might feel a slight prick or scratch
when the needle goes in, but it should not be painful.
What happens if I have symptoms but my blood test results come back
If the blood test results are normal, your doctor may arrange for
additional tests to discover what is causing symptoms and develop a
treatment plan. Your doctor might also order some further diagnostic
tests to try to understand why your iron levels are low. These could
include testing for B12 or folate (another B vitamin) deficiency, or a rectal
or pelvic examination. In some cases, your doctor might refer to a
specialist such as a gastroenterologist if they themselves cannot identify
what is causing the ID/IDA.1
How can I reduce the chances of getting ID/IDA again?
A good way is to have a healthy diet containing foods high in iron, such
as red meat and poultry, seafood, beans and pulses, dark-green leafy
vegetables such as spinach, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, and
iron-fortified cereal, bread and pasta.2 Eating foods rich in vitamin C at
the same time as eating iron-rich foods will help your body better
absorb dietary iron.2 These might include citrus juices, broccoli, leafy
greens, tomatoes, peppers and melons.2 It is important to follow your
doctor’s advice on what foods to eat and how to manage any other
health conditions you may have.
Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist may discuss with you how to prevent
ID/IDA from reoccurring by managing your diet. However, if your ID/IDA
symptoms start to come back, you can make an appointment with your
doctor to discuss how you are feeling. It is better to treat ID/IDA early
rather than waiting and letting it get worse.
If I have had ID/IDA once, am I more likely to have it again in the future?
Some groups of people have an increased risk of ID/IDA and are more
likely to experience reoccurrence. These include women who experience
particularly heavy blood loss during menstruation, vegetarians who do
not get enough iron through their diet and pregnant women.2 People
with an ongoing medical condition, such as chronic kidney disease
(CKD) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), also have an increased risk.1
When treating ID/IDA, your doctor will find out what caused it and create
a management plan to stop it from happening again. However, if the
correct cause of your ID/IDA was not found, or if you do not follow the
plan from your doctor, you might experience low iron levels again.
Can I donate blood if I have ID/IDA?
No. If you have ID/IDA, your haemoglobin level will be too low to pass the test before donating blood.3 You should wait until your iron levels are back to normal before donating blood.
Can donating blood affect iron levels?
When you donate blood, you lose a certain amount of iron, haemoglobin and red blood cells. However, the donation centre will check your haemoglobin level prior to donation to confirm that you are able to donate. The centre sets a high ‘cut off’ value to ensure that your haemoglobin will not drop below normal levels after blood donation – your level will have to be at least 12.5 g/dl (women) and 13.5 g/dl (men) to donate.3 This limits the risk of developing low iron after donation.3
Does ID/IDA run in families?
There are some inheritable conditions that might lead to anaemia, such as thalassaemia,4 and other inheritable conditions that directly cause anaemia, such as iron-refractory IDA.5 However, these conditions are very rare.5 The most common causes of ID/IDA are nutritional deficiencies, heavy menstruation, and ongoing chronic health problems that affect absorption.2 Some conditions, such as CKD or IBD, might run in families, and may affect how much iron you can absorb.2 Also, people in the same family may be exposed to the same environmental causes of ID/IDA, for example eating the same diet that is low in iron.
Oral iron tablets (or liquid) contain iron that the body will take in when swallowed. Generally, oral iron needs to be taken daily until iron levels are back to normal, which may take several weeks or months.1,6,7
An intravenous iron infusion is a procedure where iron is given directly into the vein. Intravenous iron infusions are performed in hospital.
Do iron treatments cause side effects?
Like all medicines, iron treatments can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them. Some side effects you might experience include constipation or diarrhoea, stomach pain, heartburn, nausea or black stools. However, the side effects are different with each type of iron treatment, and your doctor will consider this when deciding which treatment is best.
If you get any side effects with your iron treatment, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.
What happens if ID/IDA is not treated?
Slightly low iron levels, or mild ID/IDA, may not cause any symptoms and
you may not notice it; it also usually doesn’t cause complications.2
However, if left untreated, IDA can become more serious and lead to
some health problems.2 Talking to the doctor about your symptoms and
what you are experiencing will help reassure you, and help your doctor
determine if you might benefit from treatment.
- NHS Inform. Iron deficiency anaemia. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/iron-deficiency-anaemia#treating-iron-deficiency-anaemia. Accessed December 2021.
- Mayo Clinic. Iron deficiency anemia. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034. Accessed December 2021.
- Give blood. Haemoglobin and iron. Available at: https://www.blood.co.uk/the-donation-process/further-information/haemoglobin-and-iron/. Accessed December 2021.
- NHS. Thalassaemia. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/thalassaemia/. Accessed December 2021.
- De Falco L, et al. Haematologica 2013;98(6):845–853.
- Goddard AF, et al. Gut 2011;60(10):1309–1316
- Gasche C, et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2015;21(3):579–588.