While women are not exclusively susceptible to anemia, hormones seem to play a role in iron-deficiency anemia, says Marla Ahlgrimm. Here, the veteran women’s health entrepreneur and retired pharmacist explains what this condition is and how it’s caused.
Q: What is iron-deficiency anemia?
Marla Ahlgrimm: This is a form of anemia that is triggered when the body doesn’t get enough iron, which is essential for red blood cell function. Pregnancy is one of the main causes of iron-deficiency anemia since a developing fetus uses part of a woman’s iron stores.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Initially, there may be no indications that something is wrong. It takes time for the body to respond to iron deficiency. However, the most common symptoms include fatigue and weakness along with headaches and vertigo. These symptoms are also common during pregnancy, meaning many women don’t report them to their doctors. Later issues include irregular heartbeat, yellowing of the skin, and chest pain. Rarely, women may crave non-food items as the body desperately seeks a source of iron.
Q: Aside from pregnancy, what are some causes of iron-deficiency anemia?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Bleeding can cause iron-deficiency anemia. Usually, it is bleeding not associated with injury. For example, a women with uterine fibroids who experiences heavy menstrual periods may present with anemia. Those who regularly donate blood without allowing their body time to replenish red blood cells are also at a higher risk. Sometimes, other diseases can cause iron-deficiency anemia. Crohn’s and celiac disease can make it more difficult for the body to properly absorb iron, even when consumed in adequate amounts.
Q: How is it treated?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Often an iron supplement is given. If the anemia is caused by an underlying condition, it will be treated as well. Birth control is used to treat heavy bleeding, although surgical interventions may be necessary if hormones don’t help.