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It's Time To Start Taking Low Iron Levels Seriously, So We Asked A ‘Blood Doctor’ How To Do It
Women's Health

It's Time To Start Taking Low Iron Levels Seriously, So We Asked A ‘Blood Doctor’ How To Do It

I can still remember the look on my doctor’s face when he read back my hemoglobin levels after taking routine blood work.

“You should be in the hospital right now,” he said with a look of concern on his face. Unaware of the weakened state that my body was in at the time, I was confused by his reaction. “Your hemoglobin levels are at 7gm/dL,” he told me.


“And what are the normal levels?” I asked him, now with equal concern. “For women, normal levels are between 12.3 gm/dL and 15.3 gm/dL.”

It was at that moment that I realized that there was nothing “normal” about my perpetual fatigue and low energy levels — as they all pointed back to one thing: my anemia.

It wasn’t long after my appointment that I started on iron transfusions, and over the four sessions, it felt like I was given an entirely new body. One with more energy, better sleep patterns, less intense periods, and no more fatigue. The surge in energy made me wonder why I went so long to make my anemia a top health priority. What would've happened had I not gone in for the routine check-up sooner?

@andreadeanmd

Take iron deficiency seriously. It can affect your quality of life. #irondeficiency #irondeficiencyanemia #lowhemoglobin #anemiaproblems #anemiasymptoms #blackwomenoftiktok #hispanictiktok #tiktocdocs

What Is Anemia and Its Symptoms

Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is a medical condition characterized when the body lacks enough iron to produce all of the hemoglobin necessary for healthy red blood cells (RBCs). Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Because we need oxygen to regulate proper blood flow, individuals with anemia can find themselves experiencing irregular heart rates and extreme fatigue, which can lead to serious health complications if left unchecked.

Other symptoms of anemia include:

  • Cold extremities
  • Weakness
  • Pica, or the desire to eat non-nutritional foods like clay or ice
  • Dizziness
  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Brain fog
  • Shortness of breath
  • Restless leg syndrome

There are several types of anemia, each with different underlying causes, such as nutritional deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, or folic acid deficiency, chronic diseases like blood loss from injuries or medical conditions, or genetic factors like sickle cell anemia.

Anemia and Black Women

While having anemia at times gets overlooked as a serious health condition or even reduced down to “always being cold” and eating ice, it’s important for those living with anemia to understand the causes and long-term effects of this condition.

Studies show that “anemia in Black women and Hispanic women occurs 2 to 3 times more often than in Caucasian women.” While it is still unknown why women of color have a higher occurrence of iron-deficiency anemia, key factors that cause anemia, such as your body’s inability to absorb iron and low intake of essential nutrients like vitamin B12 and B9, should be taken with a great amount of care and consideration as you prioritize your health and well-being.

That’s why we’ve tapped Hematologist/Oncologist of Hematology Connect Andrea R. Dean, MD, to provide us with insight on how to manage and treat our anemia because it’s a condition worth taking seriously.

xoNecole: Are there genetic factors that make Black women more susceptible to anemia?

Dr. Dean: Black women are more susceptible to anemia due to iron deficiency, which is most prevalent in this group. Iron deficiency is commonly due to heavy menstrual bleeding from fibroids. Black women have a greater lifetime incidence of fibroids than any other group of women. This likely has a genetic component, but more research is needed.

xoN: Iron pills are commonly recommended to aid in low iron. From your expertise, what are some other supplements or treatments that can help manage anemia?

Dr. Dean: Treatment for anemia depends on the underlying cause. If anemia is due to B12 deficiency or folate deficiency, replacement of these vitamins is needed. If anemia is due to gastrointestinal bleeding, a referral for an EGD and colonoscopy is needed to locate the source of [the bleeding] and stop it. If anemia is due to iron deficiency, you can take iron pills, liquid iron solution, or intravenous iron.

xoN: What dietary changes can someone make to improve their iron intake and absorption? 

Dr. Dean: You can eat green leafy vegetables and red meats to increase iron in your diet. If taking iron pills, absorption is better when taken in the morning on an empty stomach every other day.

xoN: At times, anemia and low iron can be overlooked as a health concern, but what are the potential long-term consequences of untreated or chronic anemia in Black women?

Dr. Dean: Untreated anemia can be detrimental to your health. Your hemoglobin carries oxygen to organs throughout your body. If you are anemic or your hemoglobin is low, your organs are not receiving the oxygen they need to properly function. You can pass out from being anemic, and low hemoglobin stresses your heart muscles, and some patients can experience a heart attack. Additionally, the symptoms from anemia can be debilitating and can decrease your quality of life.

xoN: Can low iron be permanently corrected, or does it have to be managed throughout one’s life?

Dr. Dean: The underlying cause of iron deficiency will determine whether it can be corrected. If iron deficiency is due to decreased absorption from H. pylori, once the bacteria infection is treated, iron deficiency should resolve. If iron deficiency is due to heavy menstrual bleeding, it will likely have to be managed until a woman enters menopause unless she seeks treatment to stop or slow down periods. If iron deficiency is due to gastrointestinal bleeding, it might have to be managed throughout one’s life if they have arterial venous malformations.

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Featured image by Goodboy Picture Company/Getty Images

 

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