02 July 2010

Craving Ice: Is It A Sign of Anemia?

*** Another newly documented symptom of anemia to consider besides fatigue or weakness.

From Denny: Well, here's one thought we rarely give any time to pondering. Who ever thought wanting ice in your drink on a hot sweltering day could mean more than you are hot and thirsty?

Anemia afflicts millions of Americans every year. The most familiar symptoms, especially to younger women, are issues like fatigue and weakness that signal anemia may be the problem. Often, iron supplements are all that's required along with a mindful change in diet.

This fixation for ice, as a connection to anemia, is a new symptom recently studied. The medical community finds this craving for ice puzzling and has been documenting the craving as a sign of anemia for several years now. It's generally noted in the form of anemia known as iron deficiency anemia. Researchers still don't fully understand the link to ice and anemia. What they do suspect is that ice consumption alleviates mouth inflammation that occurs from iron deficiencies. They have named the compulsive consumption of ice as pagophagia. You know how doctors are, they like to give Latin names to obvious plainly named conditions that are a lot easier to understand.

There are documented cases of people who have gone undiagnosed with pagophagia that actually go through multiple bags of ice or trays of ice in one day alone. Their problem most often fades when they are treated with iron supplements. (Sickle cell anemia. a more severe form of anemia and genetically inherited, cannot be treated with iron supplements and is a far more serious form of anemia requiring constant medical monitoring.)

Northwestern University has conducted studies that reveal ice cravings are also a very common side effect of a type of weight-loss surgery known as Roux-en-Y (say it as ROO-on-why). This is a popular bypass surgery. The problem is that this also bypasses the very part of the intestine where iron and other minerals are absorbed by the body.

Studies, from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings of 2008, show that one-third of these bypass patients develop a B-12 or iron deficiency. The husband of one bypass patient, a 33-year-old woman, " I frequently observed her in the middle of the night with her head in the freezer eating the frost off the ice maker." Her craving subsided after transfusion and iron administration.

So, the next time you are craving ice, ask yourself two questions, "Am I getting enough iron in my diet? Did I forget to take my vitamin supplements lately?" The next time we all put ice in our drinks I bet a lot of us will be asking those questions.

Links to check out:

Symptoms of Anemia

Iron Deficiency Anemia


Side effects of Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery

Mayo Clinic articles

Mayo Clinic Home

*** Ice photo by Steve Snodgrass @ flickr

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