Anemia and Women

Anemia in Women

It is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal. Haemoglobin is a protein found in the red blood cells that carry oxygen in your body and give blood its red colour. Levels vary from person to person. Haemoglobin transports oxygen and if you have too few or abnormal red blood cells (or lack haemoglobin) there will be a decreased capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues to give us energy.

The optimal haemoglobin concentration needed to meet physiologic needs varies by age, sex, elevation of residence, smoking habits and pregnancy status. The most common causes of anaemia include nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, though deficiencies in folate, vitamins B12 and A are also important causes; haemoglobinopathies; and infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and parasitic infections. 

The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of all women of reproductive age are anaemic. Heavy menstrual bleeding is the leading cause of iron deficiency putting women at increased risk. It may be indicated if 2 or more of the following apply:

  • Passage of large blood clots
  • Needing double sanitary protection
  • Frequent change of towels / tampons (every 2 hours or less)
  • Flooding through to clothes or bedding

Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency:

  • Hair lose / poor quality of hair
  • Fatigue / exhaustion
  • Craving for ice, dirt or paper
  • Reduced exercise capacity
  • Frequently falling sick with the flu, cold or other infections
  • Poor concentration / brain fog
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness / irritability
  • Cold intolerance
  • Easy bruising
  • Muscle cramps / pain
  • Brittle or spoon-shaped nails
  • Depression
  • Restless leg syndrome

Diagnosing iron deficiency can be done with a simple blood test consisting of serum ferritin.

However, as serum ferritin is an acute phase reactant it may be elevated due to:

  • Oral iron in the previous 24 hours
  • Catching a common cold / flu in the past week
  • Concomitant disease leading to underlying inflammation

How is iron deficiency managed?

  • Diet provides 1-4 mg iron per day (for maintenance)
  • Oral iron provides 4-12 mg iron per day (to be taken daily for 6-9 months)
  • High dose intravenous (IV) iron can be administered within 1 hour here at the clinic. This provides 500-1500 mg iron per infusion and corrects deficiency within 48 hours.

This form of treatment is efficacious and safe. Ask your doctor for more information on testing iron (ferritin) level to rule out any deficiency, especially if you or a loved one suffers from any of the signs and symptoms listed above.

After an iron infusion, 3 in 10 patients experience some mild-moderate side effects usually within 48 hours or lasting up to 5 days after. These include flu-like symptoms, fever, muscle aches, joint pain and / or headaches. Please hydrate well and rest if you experience any of these symptoms. Relief can be provided in the form of Paracetamol / Ibuprofen tablets.

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