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Iron Deficiency After Bariatric Surgery

Iron Deficiency After Bariatric Surgery

One possible side effect of bariatric surgery is an iron deficiency. Although it may not seem like a big deal, iron is essential for the body's overall health and can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.

In this article, we will explore why iron deficiency occurs after bariatric surgery, its symptoms, and how to prevent and treat it.

Understanding Iron Deficiency after Bariatric Surgery

While the surgery results in many positive metabolic effects, it also comes with the risk of nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can occur in up to 50% of patients after bariatric surgeries. 

Iron deficiency occurs when the body does not have enough iron to produce adequate amounts of hemoglobin, causing symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and hair loss.

It can be diagnosed through blood tests that check for low ferritin levels and complete blood count.Iron supplements are typically prescribed to address this deficiency, and health care providers often recommend taking them in prescription strength rather than over-the-counter supplements.

It is essential to monitor iron levels regularly to prevent anemia and other vitamin deficiencies.

Why is Iron Important and What Does A Deficiency Look Like?

Iron plays a vital role in the majority of bodily functions, such as carrying oxygen through the bloodstream to your organs and muscles and maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails.

Anemia caused by iron deficiency can lead to a lack of energy, weakness, headache, pale skin, cold hands and feet, and other symptoms.

Contributing Factors to Iron Deficiency after Bariatric Surgery

There are several factors that contribute to iron deficiency after bariatric surgery. One major factor is the changes made during the surgery.

For some surgeries, like the Gastric Bypass and LOOP or Standard Duodenal Switch the part of the small intestine where most iron is absorbed is bypassed. This can lead to a lack of iron in the body and other nutrition problems.

Not getting enough iron-rich foods and vitamins can contribute to iron deficiency after bariatric surgery. It is important for patients to understand the contributing factors to iron deficiency after bariatric surgery so they can take steps to prevent and manage it.

Also, bariatric surgery does reduce the amount of stomach acid you have, which makes it harder for your body to break down the foods you eat. This can contribute to your body not being able to absorb all the iron you consume.

Diagnosis of Iron Deficiency and Anemia after Bariatric Surgery

To diagnose iron deficiency, healthcare providers may order blood tests and check levels of ferritin, a protein that stores iron.

If iron deficiency has progressed to iron deficiency anemia, a complete blood count test may be necessary. It is important to note that anemia may not be related to bariatric surgery in some cases and may require additional testing.

Early diagnosis is important as it can prevent further complications and effective treatment can be administered.

Nutritional Recommendations for Iron Deficiency

To prevent this, it's important to include foods that are high in iron such as red meat, nuts, and dark leafy green vegetables. Beans are a great source of iron as well, but should be avoided until you are ready to maintain your weight as they are high in carbohydrates.

However, the absorption of iron can be difficult after surgery, so it may be necessary to take oral iron supplements or to make sure iron is present in your multivitamin.

Healthcare providers may recommend a specific type of iron supplement that is more easily absorbed by the body. It's important to avoid taking iron supplements on your own without consulting with a healthcare provider, as too much iron can be harmful.

Additionally, taking vitamin C supplements or eating vitamin C-rich foods can help improve iron absorption. Some foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, red and green bell peppers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

Effective Treatment Options for Iron Deficiency after Bariatric Surgery

There are several effective treatment options for iron deficiency after bariatric surgery.

Firstly, increasing the intake of iron supplements can help improve iron levels in the body. These supplements should be prescribed by a healthcare provider and not purchased over-the-counter.

Secondly, adding vitamin C supplements or foods high in vitamin C to help the body absorb more iron can also be helpful. It is equally important to avoid foods high in calcium or calcium supplements when taking an iron supplement. Unlike vitamin C, calcium blocks iron absorption.

Thirdly, changing the diet to include more iron-rich foods such as red meat, dark leafy greens and beans when appropriate can be effective.

Additionally, in severe cases, iron infusion therapy may be necessary to rapidly restore iron levels. It is important to note that while iron supplements can have side effects such as constipation and nausea, they are essential for restoring iron levels and preventing complications such as anemia.

Individuals should work with their healthcare provider to determine the best treatment plan for their individual needs.

Katie Ott, MS, RD

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