Why does iron deficiency cause headaches?

The supply of all organs in the body takes place via the transporter hemoglobin (blood pigment) in the red blood cells. If there is a pronounced iron deficiency, not enough blood pigment can be produced. As a result, less oxygen can be bound and transported in the blood and the organs are supplied with less oxygen. There is an oxygen deficiency (hypoxia), in this case anemic hypoxia.
The exact mechanism by which pain develops is not yet fully understood. The brain reacts very sensitively to an insufficient supply of oxygen. Even slight fluctuations are enough to cause symptoms. The brain itself has no pain receptors, but the meninges (dura mater). It is supplied with numerous small blood vessels. If the oxygen level in the blood drops, the vessels constrict. To ensure adequate blood flow to the brain, the blood vessels dilate immediately. This possible mechanism can explain the often pulse-like headache.

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Other accompanying symptoms

A lack of oxygen supply to the organs reactively leads to an increased heart rate and faster breathing in order to load remaining red blood cells more quickly with oxygen and to transport them to the organs more quickly. Symptoms worsen under stress because more oxygen is needed here.
Those affected notice a decrease in performance and permanent fatigue. A lack of red blood pigment makes the skin and mucous membranes appear pale. An oxygen deficiency makes itself felt in the muscles in the form of twitches. Seizures, dizziness and impaired consciousness can occur.

Read more about the topic here: Symptoms of iron deficiency.

The dizziness as a symptom

Dizziness can arise in a number of ways. In the case of dizziness due to an iron deficiency, the focus is again on insufficient oxygen supply. On the one hand, various areas of the brain are undersupplied; on the other hand, the balance organ in the inner ear, as well as the visual apparatus and depth perception via muscle and joint receptors, are affected. The interaction of these three organs is particularly important for orientation in space. If the information transfer is disturbed, dizziness occurs.

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Find out more about the topic here: Dizziness.

The migraine as a symptom

The exact origin of the migraine is not yet fully understood. A temporary vasoconstriction with subsequent vasodilation in the brain is partly responsible for the development of pain. As is the case with iron deficiency, this can be caused by a lack of oxygen. The pulse-like pain character can also be explained by the vasodilating effect. Temporary circulatory disorders can also lead to aura symptoms such as flashes of light.

More information on the topic migraine you'll find here.

The diagnosis

A mere determination of the iron content in the blood is not enough to determine an iron deficiency condition. As long as the iron stores are still full, the iron content in the blood can be kept relatively constant. If iron deficiency is suspected, the ferritin value must therefore also be determined; this is therefore lower in the case of iron deficiency (<15ng / ml for women, <30ng / ml for men). The transferin saturation that can also be determined is also reduced (<20%).

If there is a symptomatic iron deficiency, not enough red blood cells can be formed, the hemoglobin value is then also reduced (<12g / dl in women, <13g / dl in men).

You may also be interested in this topic: Iron deficiency in vegetarians

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What can you do about it?

It is best to eliminate the cause of the headache. For this, the iron deficiency must be remedied by increasing the iron intake. If the iron deficiency is already causing symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, palpitations, there is probably a pronounced iron deficiency. As a rule, no improvement can be achieved by changing one's diet alone. It is therefore better to take iron orally (by mouth) in higher doses (50-100mg).
The tablet or capsule is taken once a day in the morning about 1 hour before a meal. Orange juice can be drunk with it for better absorption in the intestine.

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Before taking iron, an iron deficiency should be confirmed by a doctor and an iron utilization disorder should be excluded. If the iron deficiency is very advanced, the administration of iron infusions can be considered. This is only done under medical supervision! Symptomatic headaches can be treated briefly with conventional painkillers. But it should treat the causes quickly, as long-term use of painkillers can lead to a drug-induced headache.

Find out more here: How can you fix an iron deficiency? or Diet for iron deficiency

The duration

The duration of the headache varies greatly from person to person. Symptomatic pain can be treated briefly with pain relievers such as ibuprofen. After taking the medication, the pain should subside after about 30 minutes.

The headache can be treated permanently by filling up the iron deposits.Depending on how empty the memory is, this can take several months. If enough iron is available again for the formation of red blood cells, new erythrocytes are formed within 7 days. The oxygen level in the blood increases and the headache disappears permanently.

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