Tired? It could be anemia
Everyone has days when they wake up just as exhausted as when they fell asleep and getting anything done is next to impossible because they are so tired. While many just assume this feeling is due to sleep deprivation, always feeling exhausted could be a sign of something much more serious.
For about 3 million Americans, most who are women, fatigue is a symptom of anemia—a condition where the body does not have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the body’s tissues.
While fatigue is one of the most common symptoms, other symptoms of anemia can include:
- A rapid heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Pale palms, fingertips or face
And in the case of iron deficiency, it can include cravings for ice or non-food substances.
By taking a careful medical history, along with a physical exam and blood tests, a physician can diagnose anemia. According to Dr. Gloria Kim, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., finding the cause of anemia is the most important step in starting treatment.
“Anemia can be caused by deficiencies in nutrients including folate, vitamin B12 and iron. Iron deficiency can be caused by blood loss or low dietary intake of iron, and it is the most common cause of anemia I find in my patients,” says Dr. Kim. “Other causes can include chronic diseases, genetic diseases such as thalassemia and sick cell disease, as well as some medications.”
By changing one’s diet to include more vitamin B12, folate and iron, women will often begin to see an improvement in the way that they feel if they have a nutritional deficiency. Good dietary sources for the following nutrients include:
- For iron: Liver, red meat, oyster, sardines, beans, pumpkin seeds, yams, enriched cereals, green leafy vegetables and nuts
- For folate: Green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, lentils
- For B12: Eggs, meat, seafood and dairy
- Vitamin supplements
For some women, getting their menstrual period can lead to anemia due to blood loss. When we lose blood, we lose iron, which is needed to make new red blood cells. As a result, anemia is more common in women who have heavy, prolonged or frequent periods.
There are many treatment options, including medications and minimally invasive procedures for women with menstrual bleeding issues. Dr. Kim suggests that women speak to their physician for evaluation and to discuss treatment options.
It is also common for women to become anemic during pregnancy. This is because women need to produce more blood during pregnancy to support their baby. However, if women are not getting enough iron, folate and B12, they may not be able to produce additional red blood cells.
For most women, discovering the underlying cause of their anemia can allow them to make simple changes that will help them feel great and increase their energy.
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