Iron Deficiency Anemia Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Approximately 30% of the global population has iron deficiency anemia, with women and children being the most affected.

According to research from 1999 to 2018, the rates of iron deficiency anemia and mortality (death) associated with the condition have continued to rise in the United States.

This article discusses how common iron deficiency anemia is, who is the most affected, and the associated mortality rates. 

Woman sitting on couch, feeling tired and dizzy, may have anemia

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Iron Deficiency Anemia Overview

Iron deficiency anemia is a blood disorder that develops when a person's blood doesn't have enough red blood cells. The cause of this form of anemia is a lack of iron (iron deficiency). The body uses iron to produce a protein found in red blood cells.

This protein assists the cells in carrying oxygen throughout the body. When someone suffers from iron deficiency anemia, there is a lack of viable red blood cells, and oxygen isn't transported appropriately. 

How Common Is Iron Deficiency Anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. Millions of people have the condition, and research shows that as many as 2% to 5% of females and 1% to 2% of males in the United States have iron deficiency anemia.

These numbers have continued to rise since 1999. The number of people with iron deficiency anemia is expected to grow over the next few years. 

Who Is Most at Risk?

While women are the most likely to develop iron deficiency anemia, people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet long term have an increased risk of developing the condition.

Iron Deficiency Anemia by Ethnicity

Iron deficiency anemia does not affect all ethnicities equally. Americans of non-Hispanic Black descent are the most likely to develop iron deficiency anemia and account for the majority of cases.

Iron Deficiency Anemia by Age and Gender

Women and children are far more likely to develop iron deficiency than men. That is especially true for women of reproductive age, pregnant women, or those with heavy periods. Higher-risk age groups also include infants, children, and teens.

Iron Deficiency Anemia Rates and Aging

Even as people age, iron deficiency anemia is still found mostly in women. That said, the number of cases in men rises significantly when they reach the age of 70. 

Causes of Iron Deficiency Anemia and Risk Factors

According to the American Society of Hematology, there are several causes associated with iron deficiency anemia. They include:

  • Lack of iron in the diet
  • Menstruation
  • Experiencing physical trauma or injury that results in blood loss
  • Recent major surgery
  • Blood loss from nosebleeds, kidney or bladder disease, or gastrointestinal disease
  • Donating blood frequently

Some factors can increase a person’s risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, such as:

  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Being pregnant or recently having had a baby
  • Breastfeeding
  • Gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Recently undergoing bariatric surgical procedures such as gastric bypass
  • Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet
  • Cancer
  • Heart failure
  • In children, drinking more than 16 ounces of cow’s milk each day

Using Risk Factors to Your Advantage

If you belong to a group with a high incidence of iron deficiency anemia, you can avoid the condition by ensuring you get enough iron through either diet or supplementation. Speak to your healthcare provider about the types of iron and dosages before starting any new supplements.

What are the Mortality Rates for Iron Deficiency Anemia

Research has found that the rates of mortality caused by iron deficiency anemia have increased slightly from 0.04 to 0.08 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2018. Women are more likely to experience death from iron deficiency anemia than men, and between 1999 and 2018, 1,414 males and 2,570 females have died from the condition.

Women of African descent are the most likely to experience the highest mortality rates at 0.07 per 100,000 people.

While iron deficiency anemia can cause death in severe cases on its own, it correlates with other possibly life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, depression, and neurological deficits.

While these statistics may seem alarming, the overall survival rate of iron deficiency anemia is high because it is easy to treat and is rarely severe enough to cause death.

Understanding Survival Rates

A survival rate is defined as the number of people who survive iron deficiency anemia based on how many people have the condition.

Screening and Early Detection

Screening to detect iron deficiency anemia early is an excellent step to take if you are at an increased risk or are experiencing symptoms. While the death rate for the condition is low, it is always best to treat an iron deficiency as early as possible because prolonged iron deficiency anemia can turn severe and lead to lasting organ damage.

If you have a preexisting health condition, having an iron deficiency can also hinder your treatment for that condition or make the symptoms associated with the disorder worse. Other issues that can develop if it is left untreated include:

  • Frequent infections due to a weakened immune system
  • Heart failure
  • Pregnancy complications

Screening and early detection are essential. If every person with the condition finds out early, the mortality rates could be drastically reduced or eliminated.

The tests used to screen for iron deficiency anemia are blood tests, one of which is known as a complete blood count (CBC). It can record the number of red blood cells, their size, and how much of the blood is made up of these cells. Other tests may include:

  • Peripheral smear: A blood test used to examine red and white blood cells and blood platelets
  • Reticulocyte count: A blood test examining the number of immature red blood cells in the blood
  • Serum iron indices: A blood test that measures iron levels in the blood

Should I Do Regular Screenings?

It is not always necessary to undergo regular iron deficiency screenings. If you are in a high-risk group, your healthcare provider may recommend monitoring your blood iron levels.

Summary

Iron deficiency anemia is a widespread condition that develops when a person lacks enough iron in their diet. Almost one-third of the worldwide population has iron deficiency anemia. Most cases are found in women and children, although as men age, cases in males continue to increase.

Americans of non-Hispanic Black descent are the most likely to develop iron deficiency anemia over other ethnicities. While the condition is prevalent and treatable, leaving it untreated can lead to death in very rare cases. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes iron deficiency anemia?

    There are various types of anemia. Inadequate iron stores in the body cause iron deficiency anemia. People need to consume iron through diet to get their daily recommended intake to ensure that the cells in the body can transport oxygen effectively.

  • What are the most common symptoms of iron deficiency anemia?

    The most common symptoms associated with iron deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath. People with the condition may also experience cold hands and feet, chest pain, or dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Can you die from iron deficiency anemia?

    Iron deficiency anemia is rarely fatal. That said, in the most severe and rare cases, death can occur. Roughly 0.08 deaths occur in 100,000 people.


12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.