Anemia and menstruation: risks and treatments of iron deficiency

Anemia is characterized by an abnormal decrease in the level of hemoglobin in the blood. The most common form of anemia is iron deficiency. A deficiency of vitamins B12 and B9, a chronic inflammatory disease or bone marrow dysfunction can also be a sign of anemia. According to the WHO, anemia affects 25% of the world population. Women are the most affected.

Why do we talk about anemia during menstruation?

As mentioned above, anemia is a recurrent menstrual disorder in women, who are more affected by this deficiency than men. Why is this? Simply because menstruating people will have regular blood loss every hormonal cycle: menstruation.

Heavy and long periods, such as menorrhagia, can be responsible for an iron deficiency. Indeed, the bleeding generated by the mucous membrane of the uterus, the endometrium, reduces the red blood cell content. The symptoms are then multiple: paleness, fatigue, dizziness...

What are the symptoms of anemia?

First of all, it should be noted that there are several types of anemia.

  • Iron deficiency anemia: this is the most common anemia. It is caused by an iron deficiency or by a bad absorption of iron by the body. It can be caused by a deficient diet or by heavy menstrual periods.
  • Anemia is caused by a lack of vitamins B12 and B9. These vitamins allow the production of red blood cells.
  • Anemia related to a chronic disease such as Crohn's disease or cancer
  • Hemorrhagic anemia, which is caused by bleeding. This is when a large amount of blood comes out of the blood vessels. This can happen after childbirth, because of gastric or intestinal problems.
  • Finally, there are rarer cases of anemia, notablyaplastic anemia, when the bone marrow cannot produce enough red and white blood cells and platelets.

We will focus only oniron deficiency anemia, which is particularly common in menstruating women.

Anemia affects 4 to 8% of women of childbearing age. Some people are more prone to anemia than others.

  • People on vegetarian diets
  • People with heavy or prolonged periods
  • If you are breastfeeding or pregnant
  • Older people: with age, intestinal absorption disorders are more frequent
  • People with chronic diseases
  • People who are exposed to radiation because of multiple radios or their jobs
  • People with serious viral diseases that affect the immune system

The symptoms are multiple:

  • Pronounced and continuous fatigue
  • Pale complexion
  • Headaches and headaches
  • Hair loss
  • Soft and brittle nails
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking

What are the treatments for anemia?

If you are prone to these symptoms, you may want to ask your doctor to do a blood test to determine your hemoglobin level. Your healthcare professional may consider several treatment options based on your diagnosis, such as taking iron-rich medical supplements.

How can I prevent anemia during my period?

Fortunately, anemia during menstruation is not a fatality! There are several ways to prevent the risk of anemia.

Eat iron-rich foods

The first solution is to eat foods rich in iron, to limit the loss during menstrual flow. This trace element is divided into two categories:

  • haem iron (from blood foods such as meat and fish), with an absorption rate of about 25%.
  • Non-heme iron (from vegetable or dairy foods: cereals, fruits, vegetables...), which is more difficult for the body to absorb, with an absorption rate of 10%.

Our body is composed of about two thirds of heme iron which is found in the following foods

  • red meat, but also poultry, offal, black pudding...
  • fish, octopus...
  • seafood such as mussels and clams

Non-heme iron has a low bioavailability but is present in products necessary for a balanced diet such as

  • legumes: lentils, coral lentils, white beans
  • tofu
  • pumpkin seeds
  • some green vegetables (green beans, spinach, Brussels sprouts) but also seaweed
  • dark chocolate

Take food supplements

If a change in diet is not enough, it is possible to take food supplements, or even medication, which will aim to restore the iron level in the blood. This is often a solution that is prescribed in cases of ferritin deficiency.

Avoid drinking tea or coffee after meals

Finally, avoid at all costs tea or coffee after eating. Indeed, these drinks prevent the absorption of the iron contained in food by the body: you would risk a lack of iron during your menstrual bleeding because of a bad assimilation! On the other hand, the famous vitamin C would have a positive role to play in theabsorption of non-heme iron when taken at the same time as these foods, because it improves its bioavailability.

Anemia during menstruation FAQs

What are periods like when you have anemia?

People with anemia often have longer and heavier periods. Menstruation is not a happy time for people with low hemoglobin because the effects of menstrual bleeding are more pronounced. But this is not always the case and the deficiency may have another origin!

What are the dangers of anemia when you have your period?

Anemia related to menstruation is quite common. It will cause symptoms that are more or less disabling on a daily basis. If you suffer from an excessively abundant or even hemorrhagic menstrual flow, consult your doctor! This may hide an underlying pathology.

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