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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Heavy Metal: Iron Deficiency Common for Women

By Amy Metzger, CNM, MSN

Pile of white pills on top of an orange background
While it’s your choice whether or not to rock out to heavy metal music icon Iron Maiden, iron—the heavy metal—is essential to your overall health and well-being. Unfortunately, many women struggle with iron deficiency, often with detrimental effects on their health.  


Why Does My Body Needs Iron?

Your body relies on iron to help create the red blood cells that carry oxygen to your tissues and organs. Low iron, called iron deficiency anemia, is a condition in which your body lacks the number of red blood cells needed to function effectively.


Why Is Iron Deficiency Anemia More Common in Women?

There are several problems that can result in iron deficiency anemia, ranging from a lack of iron in your diet (common especially with vegetarians because the body absorbs the iron in animal-based foods better than in plant-based foods), to an inability to absorb iron (due to conditions such as celiac or Crohn’s disease), or blood loss through ulcers or other digestive system issues.


However, women are at increased risk of iron deficiency for several common women’s health conditions as well:

·         Heavy or longer than average periods

·         Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths in the uterus that cause heavier bleeding

·         Pregnancy, because it requires a significant increase in the need for iron to support the developing baby


What Are the Signs of Iron Deficiency Anemia?

The early signs of iron deficiency can be subtle but gradually worsen without treatment. They include:

·         Fatigue and weakness

·         Dizziness or lightheadedness

·         Headaches

·         Low body temperature (feeling chilly), cold hands and feet

·         Pale or yellowish skin tone, brittle nails

·         Rapid or irregular heartbeat

·         Shortness of breath or chest pain, especially during physical activity

·         Cravings for unusual substances like ice, dirt or paper

How Is Iron Deficiency Anemia Treated?

Anemia can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, either as part of routine blood work or if you are experiencing symptoms. Once diagnosed, we’ll work with you to find the cause. This will include a complete personal and family medical history, a discussion about your diet and possibly a physical exam or other tests.


We’ll then develop a treatment plan specific to your individual needs. For example, you may need to take iron supplements or add more iron-rich foods to your diet. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron, so that may be part of the treatment plan as well. Women with heavy periods may find relief with hormonal birth control. Uterine fibroids or digestive issues may require surgery.


It’s important that we identify the root cause of the problem to ensure the treatment is appropriate and effective. Untreated iron deficiency anemia can lead to organ damage and heart problems. Too much iron, however, can also be toxic and result in liver damage. That’s why we recommend talking to your health care provider if you are concerned about your risks or are experiencing symptoms. We’ll work with you to develop a plan that works for your individual circumstances.