After the initial shock of starting to menstruate, periods gradually become part of life. You might learn to recognize the onset of emotional upheaval, stock up on pain killers to deal with the cramps and make sure you are prepared with tampons in your bag. However, aside from coping with the practicalities of periods, they may be taking a greater toll on your body than you realize.
During your period you lose blood, which contains iron. This loss means that women need up to twice as much iron from their diet as men.1;
If the amount of iron in your diet is not enough to match the amount of iron lost through your period, you could become iron deficient. Iron deficiency means there is not enough iron to meet your body’s needs.2 Iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, where you can no longer make the number of healthy red blood cells you need.2 Having iron deficiency or iron deficiency anaemia can make you feel exhausted, have difficulty concentrating and be less able to fight infections.3
Heavy menstrual bleeding and iron deficiency
Exceptionally heavy periods, known as heavy menstrual bleeding or HMB is the most common cause of iron deficiency anaemia in the developed world.4 If you have HMB and want to learn more about your iron needs, or to check if your periods could be putting you at risk of iron deficiency, follow the link:
Even if you don’t think you have HMB you may still have trouble replacing the iron lost during your period. Iron deficiency is common in women and can have an impact on your general health.
Signs of iron deficiency
Tiredness may seem like a normal consequence of having your period, but if your exhaustion is extreme, and you don’t generally feel better in between your periods, you might be experiencing fatigue, which could be due to iron deficiency.5 You can use our Fatigue Survey to assess your level of tiredness, and you can use the results to help explain to your doctor how your tiredness is affecting your life.
Other signs of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anaemia include looking pale6 and losing concentration easily.3 To find out more about the signs and symptoms of iron deficiency see our Symptom Browser.
I may have iron deficiency, what can I do?
Periods become such a part of life that you may not think to talk to your doctor about them. You may feel that although they are very heavy, you need to just get on with it. But if your periods are impacting on your life, whether they are heavy or not, you should seek advice. Don’t forget you can ask to see a female doctor, or you may feel more comfortable talking to a nurse at first.
Remember, periods are just a part of life, don’t let them take over.
- 1. Zimmermann M, Hurrell R. Nutritional iron deficiency. Lancet. 2007;370:511-520. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673607612355. Accessed October 13, 2013.
- 2. a. b. Crichton R, Danielson B, Geisser P. Iron therapy with special emphasis on intravenous administration P32. 2008.
- 3. a. b. Koduru P, Abraham BP. The role of ferric carboxymaltose in the treatment of iron deficiency anemia in patients with gastrointestinal disease. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2016;9(1):76-85. doi:10.1177/1756283X15616577.
- 4. Liu Z, Doan Q V, Blumenthal P, Dubois RW. A systematic review evaluating health-related quality of life, work impairment, and health-care costs and utilization in abnormal uterine bleeding. Value Health. 2007;10(3):183-94. doi:10.1111/j.1524-4733.2007.00168.x.
- 5. Peyrin-Biroulet L, Williet N, Cacoub P. Guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of iron deficiency across indications: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(6):1585-94. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.103366.
- 6. Stoltzfus R, Edward-Raj A. Clinical pallor is useful to detect severe anemia in populations where anemia is prevalent and severe. J Nutr. 1999;129(May):1675-1681. Available at: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/129/9/1675.short. Accessed February 11, 2014.