Anemia and Periods - How they are related and what you should know

Iron deficiency anaemia is a condition, where you have a low amount of red blood cells or not enough haemoglobin in the blood. Haemoglobin is a protein, which gives the blood its red color and helps the red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.

How do I know if I have Iron Deficiency anaemia?

You may have several symptoms and not realised that they are linked, and caused by iron deficiency anaemia:

  • Fatigue
  • Hair falling out
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Sores around your mouth
  • Split or fragile nails
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Pagophagia (a desire to eat ice) (1)

If you have any of these symptoms you should go to your doctor to get a full blood test.

Iron Deficiency Anaemia And Periods - How Are They Related?

People with periods are at greater risk of getting Iron Deficiency anaemia due to their periods, especially when they are heavy. In fact, over 460 Million non-pregnant women worldwide suffer from Iron Deficiency anaemia. Periods can cause iron-deficiency anaemia if the iron you lose during your period is not replaced by the iron in your diet. Having a heavy period does not automatically mean that you will become anaemic if you eat an iron-rich diet.

You can also get iron-deficiency anaemia through blood loss from your digestive system or through increased iron requirements during pregnancy. Sometimes it is also because of the type of foods which you eat may be interfering with the absorption of iron.

How can you keep your iron levels up when you’re anaemic?

Your doctor may prescribe you an iron supplement until you get your levels back up. These tablets should be taken 1 hour before or 2 hours after eating. If you take anti-acids (medications which regulate the acid in your stomach juices), these times need to be increased to 2 hours before a meal and 4 hours after a meal. Iron tablets or liquids are medications so you need to keep them out of the way of small children. Sometimes you may feel sick or constipated with the tablets. Don’t stop taking them. Instead, speak to your doctor about changing the time or type of iron supplements you take.

There are also certain foods which can help you regain and maintain your iron levels.

  • Liver (not recommended in pregnancy)
  • Meat
  • Sardines
  • Pale skin
  • Beans including lentils
  • Leafy green vegetables such as kale
  • Dried fruit such as dried apricots
  • Wholegrain bread and cereals

But What About A Vegan And Vegetarian Diet?

If you have a vegan or vegetarian diet, don’t worry! Look at the list of iron-rich foods and make sure you have enough of these in your diet. If you need a supplement you can get vegan and vegetarian iron supplements.

You may want to speak to your doctor when you do change your diet to make sure there are no other reasons which are likely to make you anaemic. If there are, it can be as simple as proactively checking your iron levels rather than waiting for the symptoms of anemia to appear.

How do I know if I have a heavy period?

If you use a Ruby Cup, you will get a good idea of how heavy your periods are.

Our menstrual cup comes with measurement lines in the inside of the cup. You’ll be able to easily spot fluctuations in the heaviness of your flow. If you feel anemic and want to know how much period blood you are losing each month, get clarity and start tracking it with our cup.

The Ruby Cup Medium can hold 24ml, which has three times the capacity of a super tampon. Another benefit of tracking your period flow with our menstrual cup is that due to it’s bigger capacity you can also wear it worry-free for up to 8 hours.

Date last reviewed: February 2020

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Dr Alice Byram Bsc Med & Surg UMA MA Hons MML Cantab
 Written by Dr Alice Byram Bsc Med & Surg UMA MA Hons MML Cantab

Dr Alice Byram was born in England to a French-British family. Following on from a degree in Spanish from the University of Cambridge, she went to Spain to study medicine. On her return to the UK, she worked in Emergency Medicine for several years before recently returning to Barcelona.

References: 

  1.  Uchida T, Kawati Y. Rinsho Ketsueki. 2014;55(4):436–439.