Anemia and menopause

Anemia and menopause
Feeling tired during menopause or peri-menopause? You could have iron-deficiency anemia (British readers may recognize the more familiar spelling ‘anaemia but for this article, North American spelling is used). The good news is that very few post-menopausal women will develop iron-deficiency anemia; the bad news is that up to one in seven menstruating women will experience anemia occasionally or frequently. But there are ways to get your energy levels back to help you deal with what menopause throws your way.

Anemia defined
Anemia is a general term for a condition when there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Iron-deficiency anemia, perhaps the most common type of anemia, is due to a lack of iron. Iron is what helps the part of your blood called haemoglobin to carry oxygen throughout the body. The white blood cells in bone marrow use iron and proteins to make the haemoglobin. What all this means is that your body needs a good balance of white and red blood cells for optimal health and a strong immune system. Without enough iron, you are at risk of developing anemia.

Women, menopause, and anemia
Women need about 14 to 18 mg of iron every day (27 mg if you are pregnant) to get the most benefits and stave off anemia. Because women lose more iron through menstrual periods, women are at greater risk for anemia. During menopause and peri-menopause, you may have longer or heavier periods than normal and be even more susceptible to iron-deficiency. This is why once you are finished with menopause; you have a lower risk of being iron-deficient because you are no longer having periods.

Symptoms of anemia
*Feeling tired and lethargic; having no energy for even simple tasks
*Dizziness and light-headedness
*Heart palpitations or feeling that your heart is racing
*A pulse that is weak but still feels rapid
*Chills and feeling cold when you normally should not; during a hot summer or in a well-heated place
*You might also feel more irritable than usual or have difficulty concentrating on your work or everyday tasks

Causes of anemia
Occasional anemia is usually due to temporary conditions including pregnancy, loss of blood after surgery, very heavy periods, and poor dietary habits.
Sometimes anemia is caused by more long term conditions such as stomach ulcers or Crohn’s disease. If you have any of the above noted symptoms you must consult with your doctor to rule out any serious causes of iron-deficiency.

Iron-deficiency anemia
If your anemia is due to having low iron, you can take steps to help get your iron levels up to where they belong. Women who are pregnant may be put on iron supplements to meet the iron requirements for mother and baby. Generally the best way to make sure you get enough iron is through a healthy diet that includes vegetables, whole grains, and red meats. For those who choose to follow a vegetarian diet, black beans and soy beans are good sources of iron.

As with most supplements, a little goes a long way. Most health care professionals recommend taking no more than 18 mg of iron per day unless advised by your doctor during pregnancy or a similar condition. Eating about three servings of iron-rich foods every day should be sufficient; add in a supplement during particularly heavy menstrual periods.

You do not have to resign yourself to feeling tired all the time during menopause or peri-menopuase. If you have developed iron-deficiency anemia, your doctor can offer solutions to improve your energy levels and overall health. Proper red blood cell counts make for a healthier you during menopause and beyond.

Some great sources for information include:

Menopause, Your Doctor, and You

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Tips to get more iron in your diet

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