Anaemia is caused by low numbers of red blood cells or low levels of haemoglobin in your blood. Haemoglobin is found in red blood cells and carries oxygen around your body.
Anaemia can affect anyone but it’s more common among women who have periods. Symptoms include:
Often, these symptoms appear gradually over time. If you notice that you have one or two of these symptoms, you may have anaemia and should see your GP.
While there are several different types of anaemia, iron-deficiency anaemia is the most common type and can be caused by a poor diet or blood loss. As women lose blood during their periods, they can be more prone to iron-deficiency anaemia, especially if their periods are heavy.
Experiencing heavy periods can put you at greater risk of iron-deficiency anaemia. Typically, a period is considered heavy if you need to use two different types of sanitary product at the same time, soak through a sanitary product within an hour or if your period lasts longer than seven days.
If your periods are heavy, you may:
Heavy periods can be caused by several underlying conditions, including endometriosis or fibroids. See your GP if you suddenly develop heavier periods than usual as you may need treatment for an underlying condition.
Not only can heavy periods be challenging to cope with. Losing a lot of blood in a short space of time can also affect the levels of iron in your body, leading to anaemia.
If you experience any of the symptoms of anaemia during or after your period, your GP may suggest a blood test to measure your iron levels. If your levels are low, you may be prescribed an iron supplement to bring your iron levels back up and stop your symptoms.
If you’re prone to heavy periods you may be recommended iron supplements as a long-term solution in order to prevent anaemia in the future. You may also need to have regular blood tests every few months to monitor your iron levels.
If heavy periods are causing your anaemia, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage it.
As well as iron tablets, it’s a good idea to look at your diet. Incorporating iron-rich foods and foods that help with iron absorption (eg foods that are high in vitamin C) into your diet can reduce your chances of becoming anaemic when you get your period.
Good sources of iron include:
If you have very severe anaemia or if changes to your diet and taking supplements don’t help, your GP may recommend medication to increase your production of red blood cells or a blood transfusion. If your anaemia is caused by an underlying health condition, you may need treatment for this condition too.
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