Do you struggle to eat a balanced diet, especially around your period? Whether high-sugar foods or caffeine exacerbates uncomfortable aspects of your period or not varies a lot from person to person. But one thing is true—if you menstruate, you’re at higher risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia.
Wondering what that means exactly? You’re not alone!
What is Anemia?
Anemia is a condition that can leave you feeling weak and tired. There are a few different types of anemia, and it can be temporary or long-term, and mild or severe.
The most common type of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia. It means you don’t have enough of the element iron in your body, which is needed to create hemoglobin. That’s one of the essential parts of a red blood cell that lets it carry oxygen around your body. But why does it happen?
Causes of Anemia
There are a few things that can cause iron deficiency anemia, or put you at risk. Anemia is generally caused because you’re not consuming enough iron, or you’re losing too much. You may have a lack of iron in your diet, which is why meat-free folks need to be mindful of their iron intake.
If you have intestinal disorder, such as Celiac disease, you may be getting enough iron but not able to absorb it.
There is another larger risk factor. People who menstruate are more prone to this type of anemia due to loss of blood. Compared to 2% cisgender men, prevalence is much higher for others, but that’s not the only difference. 9-12% of white non-Hispanic menstruators are anemic, but that jumps to 20% in Black and Hispanic women—and doctors aren’t exactly sure why.
Across the board, menstruation-related anemia will be more likely if you have very heavy periods (called menorrhagia).
Unfortunately, if you think pregnancy will give you a bit of respite, guess again. Your little bundle of joy growing inside you loves to take a big share of the nutrients within you.
Are Painkillers a Problem?
An unexpected contributing factor to anemia issues during your period may be your choice of painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen are an effective over-the-counter drug to lessen your period pains.
Unfortunately, prolonged use of NSAIDs can cause peptic ulcers. (Peptic ulcers are open sores on the lining of your stomach or beginning of your small intestine.) Burning stomach pain is the main symptom, but untreated ulcers can also lead to slow blood loss that contributes to anemia.
In short? It’s important to only follow the recommended doses of painkillers, and seek treatment if you already suffer from ulcers and are worried about anemia. It’s always a good idea to check out natural cures for your cramps as well!
Signs You May Have Anemia & What to Do
According to the Mayo Clinic, here are some of the main symptoms of anemia to watch out for:
- Extreme fatigue or weakness
- Pale skin
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat or getting short of breath
- Headache or dizziness
- Cold hands and feet
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue
- Brittle nails
- Unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances, such as ice, dirt or starch
If you feel like your nails break too easily or you love to chew on ice, that may not mean you’re anemic. The best way to find out for sure is to talk to your doctor; anemia is not something you should self-diagnose and treat.
If your anemia is not very severe, your doctor may recommend simply eating more iron-rich foods such as red meat, beans and dark leafy vegetables. If you already do so, they may prescribe an iron supplement.
It’s important to wait for a doctor’s guidance when it comes to supplements.
Even though iron supplements can be bought over the counter, your anemia may be part of a larger issue, and too much iron can build up heart, liver, joints, pancreas, and pituitary gland.
Lane Baumeister is an internationally-based Canadian writer with several years’ experience creating educational and entertaining articles that discuss intimate health and sexual well-being. When not waxing profound about menstruation, she devotes herself to enjoying extremely good food and equally bad movies.