What is the connection between heavy periods and anaemia?

The link between your period blood loss and anaemia

Periods can vary between women to women. Some women might have relatively light bleeding while others might need to change their pads or tampons more regularly and experience painful cramps. There are several factors which can influence your period; use of hormonal contraception being a predominant one. 

During the average period, women may lose between 6-16 teaspoons of menstrual blood - around 80ml. Losing more than 80ml or if you are bleeding for more than seven days, is defined as a heavy period.

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Will heavy periods cause anaemia? 

Anaemia is a possible complication associated with heavy menstrual bleeding. This type of anaemia is known as blood loss anaemia and happens when there is a reduction in the number of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin which carries oxygen to the tissues around your body. When there isn't enough oxygen, your body depletes your existing iron stores to make more haemoglobin. 

Signs and symptoms of anaemia include: 

  • Tiredness and fatigue 
  • Feeling weak 
  • Pale skin 
  • Feeling short of breath 
  • Dizziness 
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Cold feet and hands 
  • Chest pain 

It's quite common for people to associate fatigue with anaemia, but this can be a sign of many different conditions, so it's important to see your doctor if you are experiencing multiple symptoms. A way to test for anaemia is by doing a blood test. If you are anaemic, you'll likely be prescribed iron supplements and advised about including enough vitamins and minerals in your diet. 

 

What can I do to prevent anaemia? 

Certain types of anaemia can be prevented by having a diet rich in vitamins and minerals allowing you to get plenty of iron into your bloodstream. Good sources of iron, vitamin B-12 and folate include: 

  • Beans 
  • Lentils 
  • Peas
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Fortified cereals 
  • Meat 
  • Fruits
  • Wholemeal bread, pasta and rice 
  • Soy
  • Dairy 

 

Getting plenty of vitamin C also helps your body to absorb iron so try to include more citrus fruits, strawberries, melons and vegetables like tomatoes and broccoli into your diet.  

 

How can I tell if I'm having heavy periods? 

It's relatively impossible to physically measure the amount of menstrual blood you're losing throughout your period, but you'll probably have a good idea of what is normal for you. Bleeding through your clothes and having to change your tampon or pad every 1-2 hours is an indication of heavy bleeding. However, usually, there is no underlying cause for this, but heavy menstrual bleeding can be a sign of a health condition, or it can lead to anaemia. 

 

What causes heavy periods? 

There are some conditions which can cause heavy menstrual bleeding. These include: 

  • Fibroids 
  • Endometrial  polyps 
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease 
  • Endometriosis 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome 
  • Cancer of the womb
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Diabetes 
  • A blood clotting disorder 

 

These conditions are likely to cause painful or irregular period in addition to the heavy menstrual bleeding. Hypothyroidism, due to an underactive thyroid gland, usually results in symptoms of tiredness, weight gain and depression. If heavy periods are having an impact on your day, you should see your GP so that they can assess your symptoms and rule out any possible underlying conditions. 

There are types of medications which can affect your period and cause heavy bleeding: 

  • IUD: a type of contraception known as the coil 
  • Blood thinners: medication used to prevent blood clots 
  • Some types of chemotherapy 
  • Herbal supplements 

 

How to treat heavy periods 

One of the most popular ways to control heavy and painful periods is by taking the combined contraceptive pill. It works by overriding your natural cycle and preventing ovulation. Your period will be regular, lighter and less painful. Lighter and irregular periods can be a relief for women with a condition called endometriosis as it stops the growth of the excess endometrial tissue outside of the womb. The pill isn't suitable for everyone, and your doctor or pharmacist will check to ensure you don't have any underlying health issues which can be affected by the pill. 

 

Sources

NHS> Heavy Periods: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heavy-periods/ 

Mayo clinic> Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding) 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menorrhagia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352829

Mayo clinic> Anemia: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351366 

Web MD> Why are my periods so heavy? https://www.webmd.com/women/heavy-period-causes-treatments 


 

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