Tiredness, cold hands, heart palpitations—these are all symptoms of anemia, a serious condition in which a person’s red blood cells can’t carry enough oxygen for their body to function properly.
In some cases, heavy menstrual flow can lead to anemia. Every woman is different, so not every woman with a heavy period will develop anemia. But for those who do, it is caused by the body losing more iron during their period than they are absorbing through their diet. This lack of iron means muscles and organs are not receiving the necessary oxygen, which can lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
What causes anemia?
The causes of this condition are diverse and include:
- Loss of blood for any reason, such as heavy periods, digestive bleeding or the presence of blood in the urine on a regular basis.
- A deficit of iron, caused by imbalances in the diet. When your body doesn’t have enough iron, it can’t produce hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
- Lack of sufficient production of red blood cells or a faster-than-normal destruction of them..
- Certain drugs, such as some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
What are the symptoms of anemia?
A person who is anemic may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue throughout the day, even after having slept well.
- Dizziness and trouble breathing normally.
- Cold hands and feet, even in hot weather.
- Palpitations and chest pain.
- Low blood pressure, weakness and headaches.
- Pale skin and mucous membranes, especially in the conjunctiva of the eye, on the gums and under the nails.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to ask your doctor for a blood test to check for anemia, so you can begin treatment as soon as possible.
Your doctor’s first step will be to pinpoint the cause of your anemia, so they can tailor your treatment appropriately. In the case of digestive bleeding, for example, surgery may be necessary. Or if the anemia is due to bone marrow problems, a blood stem cell transplant or a bone marrow transplant may be required.
In addition to finding out the origin, depending on the hemoglobin values and the symptoms that cause anemia, there are several treatment options your doctor may prescribe, ranging from introducing changes in diet to the administration of iron or nutritional supplements such as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin C.
Sometimes, a patient’s body won’t tolerate oral iron supplements, whether because of gastric intolerance or intestinal malabsorption. In such cases, a doctor may prescribe supplemental iron to be injected intravenously.
Preventing anemia during your period
The best way to prevent anemia during menstruation is through your diet. It’s important to eat plenty of iron-rich foods including red meat, fish, egg yolks, walnuts, whole grains, nuts and leafy greens such as spinach. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, boosting the amount of legumes, fortified cereal and bread you eat will help increase your iron intake.
Taking an iron supplement can help as well, but be sure to always check with your doctor before adding supplements to your diet. Your doctor may also prescribe drugs, such as oral contraceptives, to regulate very heavy periods.
Anemia is a serious condition because lack of sufficient oxygen can damage tissues and organs. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you think you may be anemic.