Iron deficiency and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

A lack of iron commonly causes iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA). IDA leads to a reduction in the production of red blood cells and this means a reduced amount of oxygen is carried around the body in your blood.

Iron deficiency is a common complication for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) but it can be easily treated.

The most common symptoms of iron deficiency are:

  • Tiredness
  • Lack of energy
  • Heart palpitations
  • Pale complexion

Less common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus (hearing sounds)
  • Altered taste
  • Itchiness
  • Sore or abnormally smooth tongue
  • Hair loss
  • Desire to eat non-food items
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Ulcers in the corner of your mouth
  • Spoon-shaped nails

If iron deficiency is left untreated it can lead to:

  • Increased risk of infection
  • Heart and lung problems
  • Restless leg syndrome

How is iron deficiency diagnosed?

Iron deficiency can be diagnosed through a blood test done by your doctor. Some companies provide private home testing - such as this one based* in the UK.


Why might people with IBD be deficient in iron?

People with IBD who lose blood (and subsequently iron) in their stools from their intestines are at risk of iron deficiency. This can happen in both Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

People with Crohn’s disease in their small intestine are at further risk as iron is absorbed in the first part of the small intestine - called the duodenum. If this area of your bowel is damaged it may not be able to absorb iron very well.

Some people with IBD are also restricted with the foods they consume and therefore don’t get enough iron through their diet.

How can iron deficiency be treated?

Most people with iron deficiency will be given an iron supplement to take orally or given iron intravenously. This will boost the iron levels in your body. Some people find they have side effects from taking iron supplements - such as cramping and constipation.

You can also increase iron intake through your diet by eating the following foods:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
  • Brown rice
  • Pulses and beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Meat, fish and tofu
  • Eggs
  • Dried fruit

Some cereals and bread are also fortified with iron.

You can also buy over-the-counter iron supplements such as these*. Iron tablets can cause some digestive issues so many people use a liquid or iron spray* instead.

*Please note these are affiliate links which means if you buy from the company we may receive a commission. You will pay the same price as you normally would and any money earned will be used to support IBDrelief's work

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