Anemia is a common health condition characterized by low red blood cell count that affects more than 3 million Americans. Having an insufficient amount of red blood cells can be problematic because the body’s cells are unable to get enough oxygen, leading to fatigue and other symptoms.
Anemia comes in many forms, with many caused by blood loss or iron deficiency. In general, many women experience anemia because of heavy menstrual periods that cause their iron levels to fall. Overall, women are at higher risk of anemia than men. Specific high risk groups include the elderly, Hispanic women, women of color, people with chronic illness, and women of childbearing age. Here we’ll get into the specifics of anemia and the ways in which menstruation can affect and contribute to anemia.
Anemia due to blood loss
Women who suffer from heavy menstrual periods are more prone to forms of anemia where red blood cells are lost to bleeding, which makes sense when you think about it. Women with anemia due to blood loss may be left feeling tired, weak, and possibly even out of breath. One sign that your period is abnormally heavy is if you’re going through a tampon or pad every hour for at least a few hours in a row. Other signs include passing large blood clots and bleeding for more than seven days in a row. If you’re experiencing any of these situations, you should speak with your doctor about getting tested for anemia.
Iron-deficiency anemia comes about when the body is low on iron. Not having enough iron in the body is problematic because it’s needed to produce hemoglobin for red blood cells. While this form of anemia can arise from a number of factors, including diet, menstruation is a common contributor. Women of childbearing age are at a higher risk for this form of anemia due to blood loss during menstruation and the increased demands on blood supply during pregnancy. People suffering from iron-deficiency anemia may experience strange cravings, such as for paper, dirt, or ice.
What are some symptoms of anemia?
Some common symptoms of anemia include lethargy, dizziness, pale skin, abnormally rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, irritability, trouble with concentration, sexual dysfunction, and insomnia. Though these symptoms will vary depending on the form of anemia, its severity, and the cause. It’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing a combination of these symptoms, especially if you’re also suffering from a very heavy menstrual period. Your physician will be able to carry out further testing to determine if you are suffering from anemia. These tests are likely to include a physical exam, medical history, and blood work that assesses your levels of red and white blood cells, hemoglobin, and platelets.
Should I be worried about anemia?
Whether you should worry about anemia depends on the situation. Anemia that develops during pregnancy affects up to 40% of pregnant women and is often seen as normal. For women who are considering becoming pregnant, doctors will usually recommend supplements including iron and folate. And anemias due to blood loss and iron-deficiency can usually be treated with iron supplements and even dietary adjustments. However, some forms of anemia can be much harder to treat and require procedures such as blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants.
If you have any concerns about anemia and want to speak with a knowledgeable physician, call Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.