Uterine fibroids and anemia: everything you need to know

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Heavy bleeding is likely the most infamous symptom of uterine fibroids. For some women, the bleeding reaches a point of adversely affecting daily quality of life, work schedule and social activities. While coping hacks exist [linked to internal post], an even bigger problem looms. This blood loss can lead to iron deficiency anemia, a debilitating and potentially dangerous condition that demands professional medical attention.

Common symptoms of anemia include:

  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Noticeable heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Pale skin

Less common symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Hearing ringing, buzzing or hissing noises inside your head (tinnitus)
  • Food tasting strange
  • Feeling itchy
  • A sore tongue
  • Hair loss
  • Wanting to eat non-food items, such as paper or ice (PICA)
  • Finding it hard to swallow
  • Painful open sores (ulcers) in the corners of your mouth
  • Spoon-shaped fingernails
  • Restless legs syndrome

Iron deficiency anemia is caused by low levels of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron-containing protein in our red blood cells that transports oxygen to the tissues. Our bodies need well-distributed oxygen in order to function properly.

Why is anemia dangerous?
Our bodies need that hemoglobin because without it, sufficient quantities of oxygen cannot reach all the organs of the body that demand it. This can lead to serious complications, not only further lowering daily functioning and quality of life, but also posing a significant health risk. Delaying treatment of anemia can lead to

  • Lowered immunity, which means getting ill more often
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), heart attack and heart failure, because the heart works harder, as it is still doing its best to deliver oxygen around the body, even when that gets difficult
  • Pregnancy-related complications including premature birth, miscarriage and low birth weight, because the mother’s body simply doesn’t have enough iron for mother and baby to function and develop as they should.

How is iron deficiency anemia diagnosed?
Thankfully, checking for anemia is fairly simple and doesn’t involve guesswork. Your GP can order a blood test (FBC – Full Blood Count also called CBC – Complete Blood Count) and the results should be ready relatively quickly.

How is anemia treated?
Treatment is thankfully not overly complicated. You’ll need to take daily iron supplements. The cheapest and most widely available option is iron tablets, as per your doctor’s recommended dosage. However, some woman report that the typical iron pill causes them some unwanted side effects, potentially including any of the following:

  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Black stool

Giving up on taking iron supplements is not an option. However, speak with your doctor if you are having difficult side effects, as there are other forms of iron available, be they in tablet or capsule form, drops or even especially gentle liquids. There is something out there that will work for you.

Some women prefer to modify their diet in an effort to raise iron levels. While meat, poultry, leafy greens, seafood, beans, dried fruits, peas and iron-fortified cereals and pastas can be helpful additions toward preventing iron deficiency, especially when coupled with vitamin C, they cannot be solely counted on once iron levels are dangerously low.

So, while iron deficiency anemia can be debilitating and dangerous, it is also extremely treatable. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, please see your GP as soon as possible to get healthy, stay healthy and be your best self.