Why Anemia in Women Is More Common

August 2, 2022 8:49 am Published by

Amenia in women is more common than it is in men, both in the U.S. and globally. If you’ve experienced the fatigue, brain fog and other symptoms that accompany this condition, the good news is, you can do something about it.

Defining Anemia

Anemia occurs when your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells to effectively move oxygenated blood throughout the body or when the red blood cells you have don’t carry the oxygen properly. As a result, the body’s organs don’t receive the oxygen they need, causing you to feel sluggish and weak.

There are multiple types of anemia. The most common type of anemia is probably the one you’re familiar with—iron-deficiency anemia. But how does not having enough iron affect your red blood cells?

Red blood cells contain an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin. (Fun fact: It’s also what makes blood red.) Hemoglobin allows your red blood cells to carry blood from your lungs to the rest of your body.

The body requires iron to make hemoglobin. So, when you aren’t getting enough iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin to move oxygenated blood efficiently.

There are other forms of anemia, including vitamin-deficiency anemia, caused by a lack of vitamin B12 or folate, and sickle cell anemia, in which abnormally shaped cells can’t travel through blood vessels as they should. Regardless of which type of anemia you have, you may experience a wide range of symptoms that occur as your organs are deprived of oxygen. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • A sensation of feeling cold
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin that bruises easily
  • Weakness

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care provider, who can order a blood test to see if anemia is to blame.

Why Anemia Is More Common in Women

Anemia is the most common blood disorder, affecting more than 3 million Americans and causing nearly 900,000 trips to the Emergency Room each year. While having low iron levels is a common cause, anemia can also occur due to blood loss.

In women, having heavy menstrual periods puts women at greater risk of developing anemia because they deplete the body of essential red blood cells. Women are also at a higher risk during pregnancy, a time when the body requires more iron than normal to support your body and your baby’s growth. In fact, women need nearly double the amount of iron during pregnancy as they do when they aren’t pregnant, which is why prenatal vitamins contain extra iron.

Treating and Preventing Anemia

The way that anemia is treated will depend on the type of you have and its underlying cause. In many cases, nutritional deficiencies are to blame. Dietary changes or nutritional supplements may be recommended to increase levels of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid and other nutrients essential for red blood cell function.

If a person’s anemia is the result of excessive blood loss, treatments can stop or limit the bleeding. Your doctor may also recommend a blood transfusion to replace red blood cells if your case is severe.

In many cases, it’s possible to prevent anemia from occurring in the first place or recurring.

Take a good look at your diet and make sure you’re getting the essential nutrients you need. Even if you don’t eat meat, you can still get sufficient iron from sources such as lentils, spinach and even pistachios. Leafy vegetables can help improve your vitamin B12 intake. If you’re still concerned about your diet, talk with your provider about whether iron supplementation might be helpful.

It’s also important to talk with your OB-GYN or another medical provider if you frequently experience heavy periods, since they increase your risk for anemia.

Wondering whether your iron levels are normal? Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider.

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This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center

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