Up to 10% or more of adolescent and adult women under 49 years are iron deficient. Hispanic American and African-American women have double the prevalence for anemia compared to Caucasian women. The risk for anemia in adolescent girls is about 3%. Anemia is generally mild in young women, however, and is more likely to occur with one or more of the following conditions:
* Heavy menstruation for longer than 5 days
* Abnormal uterine bleeding, such as from fibroids
* Pregnancy. About 20% of women in industrialized countries have iron deficiency during pregnancy. Multiple pregnancies and births significantly increase the risk.
Anemia develops when you don’t have enough robust, healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. The blood cells may lack enough hemoglobin, the protein that gives blood its red color. Anemia affects one in 10 teen girls and women. It also develops in men and children and is linked to some illnesses.
Symptoms of Anemia
If you’re often tired even though you’ve slept well or you lack the energy for normal activities, you may have anemia. It can be an underlying cause of memory or mood problems. Symptoms range from none to mild to life-threatening and may include:
* Numbness or coldness in hands and feet
* Low body temperature
People with anemia have less oxygen in their blood, which means the heart must work harder to pump enough oxygen to their organs. Cardiac-related symptoms include arrhythmia (an abnormal heart rhythm), shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Anemia Risk Factors
Women and people with chronic diseases have the greatest risk of anemia. When women lose blood in heavy menstrual periods, they may become anemic. Pregnancy also causes changes in a woman’s blood volume that can result in anemia. Chronic diseases such as kidney disease can affect the body’s ability to make red blood cells. A diet low in iron, folate, or vitamin B12 also increases your risk. And some types of anemia are hereditary.
Cause: Low Iron Intake
A diet that’s low in iron can cause anemia. Iron from plants and supplements isn’t absorbed as well as the iron in red meat. Digestive concerns such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or even having gastric bypass surgery can interfere with iron absorption. And some foods and medicines can hinder iron uptake when taken with iron-rich foods. They include:
* Other calcium-rich foods
* Calcium supplements
Cause: Vitamin Deficiency
The body needs both vitamin B12 and folate to make red blood cells. A diet too low in these vitamins sometimes can cause anemia. An autoimmune disorder or digestive problem also can prevent your body from absorbing enough B12. Animal-based foods and fortified breakfast cereals are good sources of B-12. Folate is in leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, and peas, and is added to breads, pastas, and cereals as folic acid.
Cause: Blood Loss
Losing too many red blood cells is a common cause of anemia. Heavy menstruation, ulcers, injury, or surgery can cause enough blood loss to lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Women who have heavy menstrual periods should be tested for anemia every year.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder in which the body produces an abnormal form of hemoglobin. This causes red blood cells to change from round to a sickle shape and become stuck together. That can make it difficult for them to pass through blood vessels, leading to pain and damage to body tissues. The red blood cells also die more quickly than normal red blood cells. In the U.S., sickle cell anemia is more common among African-Americans and Hispanics.
Living With Anemia
Treating your anemia and eating a well-rounded diet can give you more energy and enhance your life. Most people can manage their anemia through a healthy diet and iron or vitamin supplements, if a doctor says they are deficient in one of the key nutrients. If you have a chronic disease, then good management of your condition also will help you prevent or manage anemia.