Anaemia and Periods
Anaemic periods are sometimes as a result of heavy periods. Learn more about anaemia and periods, how to know if you have anaemia and how to treat it if you do.
The link between anaemia and periods
Having a period does not always correlate to having anaemia, but if your period is heavy, there is an increased risk of developing the condition.
The Mayo Clinic explains that regular and/or heavy periods can cause anaemia as the number of circulating red blood cells lowers each cycle. The quantity of circulating red blood cells is measured by haemoglobin, a protein that enables red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues. Anaemia occurs as your body attempts to make up for the lost red blood cells by using your iron stores to make more haemoglobin.
How do I know if my period is heavy?
It’s not always easy to tell how much blood you’re losing during your period, and it can often feel like it’s a lot more than it actually is. In fact, most women will only lose around 30-60 millilitres each month, that’s about 2-3 tablespoons.
Your period is considered to be ‘heavy’ when you lose more than 80 millilitres of blood each cycle.
Signs your period is heavy
An easier way to tell if you’re experiencing heavy periods is if you:
- Can’t maintain normal activities, either due to cramps or heavy bleeding
- Soak through a pad or tampon every 1-2 hours
- You double up on period protection
- Need to change your period protection during the night
- Bleed for longer than a week
- Have blood clots
- Have symptoms of anaemia (see below for more info)
- Bleed through clothing
What causes heavy periods?
There are a range of reasons Why you may be experiencing heavy periods, although sometimes the cause is not known. Conditions such as obesity and using an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD) can cause heavy periods, and there are other conditions that could play a role too:
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is common, affecting 1 in 5 women in the UK (tommys.org). It’s a complex hormonal condition that affects the way the ovaries function, and can result in heavy and irregular periods.
Endometriosis is also common, affecting 1.5 million women in the UK and it can also cause heavy bleeding during your period. Often sufferers also experience intense period cramps too.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
PID is one of the main causes of pelvic pain in women and can also cause heavy periods. Its often caused by a sexually transmitted disease being left untreated and should never be ignored.
Uterine Polyps and fibroids
Uterine fibroids and polyps are growths that attach to the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding during your period. Typically, women report that their periods are also longer and some experience bleeding between periods too.
As the ovaries begin to stop working and levels of oestrogen drops, periods can become more irregular and sometimes heavier than usual. This usually happens between the ages of 45-55, but some women can experience menopausal symptoms earlier.
When to see a doctor about heavy periods
If you’ve been experiencing heavy periods, it’s a good idea to book an appointment to speak with your doctor to investigate potential causes.
Your doctor will ask you some questions about your cycle, so be prepared- and take some notes on how long your period lasts, how often you change period protection and whether or not you’re experiencing intense cramps.
Treatments for heavy periods
Heavy bleeding may well be normal for you, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be done.
Your doctor might suggest trying different forms of contraception, such as an intrauterine system (IUS) or combined pill. A medicine called Tranexamic acid may also help.
Speak to your doctor to find the best treatment for you- and if the heavy bleeding continues, ask to be referred for tests to find out more.
What is Iron deficiency anaemia?
As already discussed, some women experiencing heavy periods may also experience anaemia- meaning that their body is deficient in iron.
If there aren’t enough red blood cells to produce haemoglobin, the body taps into iron stores instead, which results in anaemia.
What are the symptoms of anaemia?
The most common symptoms of anaemia include feeling lethargic, feeling short of breath and heart palpitations.
But the NHS also advises that there are some less common symptoms to look out for too:
- hair loss
- feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- spoon-shaped nails
- cold hands and feet
- changes to your sense of taste
- feeling itchy
- sore tongue
- sores at the corners of your mouth
- Pica- wanting to eat non-edible items
- difficulty swallowing
How can anaemia be treated?
There are both medical and natural ways to treat iron deficiency anaemia. Before a decision is made, it may be that your doctor will carry out further investigations to find out why you are bleeding heavily. This could include blood tests, a smear test, scans, and other medical procedures.
Medical treatments for anaemia
Your doctor may advise that you take iron tablets daily. They may also suggest taking forms of contraception or other medication to reduce the amount of blood you are losing each month.
Natural remedies for anaemia
Increasing your iron levels through improving your diet is an option- however, it’s important to note that often iron tablets are needed alongside an iron-rich diet.
Below are a range of foods that contain iron that won’t cost you a lot and are easy to buy:
- Red meats
- Eggs, Tofu
- Fish, especially shellfish
- Leafy greens, such as spinach
- Grains Dark
Experts also agree that eating strawberries or drinking a glass of orange juice after a meal is a good way to help your body absorb vitamin C, and increase the absorption of iron too.
You can also try to avoid drinking caffeine straight after a meal as it can decrease the amount of iron your body absorbs from your food.
The bottom line on heavy periods and anaemia
Heavy periods and the symptoms of anaemia can have a negative impact on your life. It’s important to speak to your doctor if your periods are heavy and/or you feel you may have iron deficiency anaemia.
There are various treatments available to reduce heavy bleeding and to improve your iron levels, such as increasing the amount of iron in your diet or taking medication. It’s important to talk these options through with your doctor to make sure you are choosing the best plan for you.
Are heavy periods a sign of anaemia?
Heavy periods alone are not a sign of anaemia, but they can be a cause of the condition. Anaemia is caused by an iron deficiency, which occurs through blood loss- so having a heavy period can lead to anaemia, but it is not a symptom of it.
Can anaemia be cured?
Anaemia can be easily treated, both through iron tablets and by ensuring you eat an ira-rich diet. Foods such as red meat, eggs, spinach and tofu are great sources of iron.
Can anaemia cause worse periods?
Iron deficiency anaemia can be the cause of heavy periods, and in some cases lack of iron can make you miss a period altogether. Speak to your doctor if you are anaemic and your periods are irregular.
How do you know if your period is making you anaemic?
If your period is consistently heavy and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, there is a chance you could be anaemic. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss.