One of the peskier side effects of the heavy bleeding that can develop as a symptom of uterine fibroids is iron deficiency, even to the point of dangerous anemia.
Iron is an essential mineral that our bodies must have in order to produce the hemoglobin that helps red blood cells distribute oxygen throughout the body. When blood is lost quicker than the body produces new red blood cells, it can lead to a deficit of hemoglobin. What this essentially boils down to is a host of symptoms that can be debilitating and even dangerous, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale or yellowish skin
As part of a regular checkup with either your GP or gynecologist, iron levels (initially tested via hemoglobin levels as an indicator) should be checked and a log may be kept to see if numbers are heading up or down. Normal, healthy hemoglobin for an adult woman measures between 11.6 and 15 g/dL.
Often when hemoglobin numbers come back as borderline, doctors may order a trial period whereby the patient is asked to eat an iron-rich diet before beginning supplements. Many foods can help contribute to the body’s stores of iron, including:
- Red meat, pork and poultry
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
- Dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots
- Iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas
Together with an increase in Vitamin C intake to facilitate better absorption of the iron, dietary changes can help. However, for women with severe heavy bleeding as a result of fibroids, simple dietary changes are often insufficient, necessitating the taking of an iron supplement. Just as a lack of iron creates problems, so does an overdose of iron. It is for this reason that sticking to the dose recommended by your doctor is vital.
Supplement options abound on the market and iron comes in a number of forms, including ferric maltol, ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate and polysaccharide iron complex. It can be taken in tablet, capsule or liquid form, with liquids coming both as drops and a drinkable preparation.
As iron supplements can aggravate digestive difficulties, potentially leading to upset stomach, constipation or heartburn, be sure to mention any additional ailments and sensitivities that lie in your medical history. This will make it easier to prescribe the product least likely to create other problems in its wake.
Almost as important as taking the correct supplement is taking the supplement correctly. This includes taking it on an empty or nearly-empty stomach. As it can create stomach upset, those just beginning supplementation might be best off dividing the daily dose, taking half in the morning and half in the evening, both with a small portion of food. Don’t ingest dairy products or antacids, as well as high fiber and caffeine-laden food and drinks together with iron, as they are a hindrance to proper absorption. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C also facilitates greater absorption, so be sure to include any combination of the following in your daily dietary intake, or consider a Vitamin C supplement.
- Citrus fruit, such as oranges and orange juice
- Black currants
- Brussels sprouts
One may see the need to manage anemia as daunting, but it essentially is a small but mandatory life change. Making step-by-step dietary changes doesn’t need to be as enormous as it initially feels. The consequences of ignoring severe iron deficiency include increase in illness and infection and a greater risk of developing complications that affect the heart or lungs, such as an abnormally fast heartbeat (tachycardia) or heart failure. Untreated anemia in pregnant women increases the likelihood of complications both before and after birth.
As with any chronic medical condition, for women with uterine fibroids, consistent medical care is a must. Keeping on top of care is the best way to ensure being able to maintain happy and productive levels of work, socializing and daily functioning. We wish you the best of health and success!