If you’re someone with a menstrual cycle, you’re probably used to feeling a bit tired each time you get your period. But what if this fatigue doesn’t go away?
What is anemia and what does it have to do with feeling tired on my period?
Anemia is a condition which occurs when there’s a low level of red blood cells or hemoglobin in your body.
Hemo-what? Hemoglobin is a protein within your red blood cells that contains iron and transports oxygen to your cells.
If you experience a drop in red blood cell numbers, your body can’t get enough oxygen and this impacts all the other things it needs to do to keep you healthy.
Anemia can be caused by a number of different things, however for people with periods, we are focused on iron deficiency anemia.
When you have a period, you naturally lose some iron when you bleed. Most of the time, if you’re eating enough iron-rich foods, and your body is absorbing it properly, you’ll be replacing any lost iron and won’t have any issues.
Sometimes though, your iron levels may become too low, leading to anemia. This can happen if your period is very heavy (meaning you lose a lot of blood each period), if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you’re just not absorbing the iron that you’re eating.
How do I know if I have anemia?
This type of anemia can creep up slowly and you might not realise you have it until symptoms worsen or you have a blood test that shows low iron levels.
Some of the common signs that might point to iron deficiency anemia include:
- Ongoing tiredness (you take time to rest, get a good sleep, eat ‘well’, but you still feel tired)
- Physical weakness (you find you run out of ‘steam’ quickly)
- Shortness of breath (for example, if you normally can run between activities and go for a walk without issue, but suddenly these things make you feel out of breath)
- Poor concentration and brain fog (finding it hard to focus, or feeling fuzzy-brained)
- Increased sensitivity to cold temperatures (you find it hard to get warm in the cold, or have poor circulation in your fingers and toes).
These are some of the signs your doctor will check for, to work out whether you might be experiencing anemia.
I have iron deficiency anemia - what can I do to manage it?
Your doctor will likely provide you with iron supplements to support you to get your iron levels back on track.
An easy at-home way to increase your access to iron is to add plenty of iron-rich foods to your meals. These include:
- Red meat (especially beef, liver and kidneys)
- Legumes (things like beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans - great options if you’re vegetarian or vegan)
- Dark green leafy veggies (like spinach)
- Broccoli (add some lemon juice to boost iron absorption)
- Tofu (and other soy-based products)
- Cereals, breads and pastas that have added iron (iron-fortified)
- Fish and shellfish (especially tuna, sardines, clams, oysters and mussels).
Adding some lemon juice to your iron-rich meals is an easy and delicious way to help your body to easily absorb the iron in your food.
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