Anemia occurs for many reasons. Your body may not produce enough red blood cells, you experience heavy periods or your body destroys the red blood cells you do have. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, a protein that gives blood its color. But hemoglobin plays a more important part in keeping you healthy. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to your lungs for distribution throughout your body. It also helps your body exhale carbon dioxide.
Anemia Symptoms I Experienced
I was fatigued, my skin was pale, I felt a little dizzy at times and was having unexplained headaches. I also worked a full-time graveyard shift, my family life was hectic and I had been having heavier-than-usual menstrual periods, so I attributed the symptoms to these circumstances.
How I Learned I Had Anemia
During a routine blood donation visit, the screening nurse told me that my hemoglobin was too low to donate that day. I was advised to make an appointment with my physician to determine the cause.
A physical exam, which included a complete blood count (CBC), revealed iron-deficiency anemia, the most common kind. My hemoglobin was lower than the average for women, which is 12.0 to 15.5 grams per deciliter.
My treatment regimen consisted of dietary changes and an iron supplement. I added more peas, soybeans, whole-grain carbs and peanut butter to the chicken, fish and meats I already ate on a regular basis. I also added oatmeal combined with fruits, such as raisins and apricots, and I bulked up my intake of green vegetables rich in iron, such as kale.
Iron supplements make me nauseous, so tolerating them was a challenge for me. My doctor suggested taking a vitamin C supplement or drinking eight ounces of orange juice with my iron pill to help my body absorb it better. That worked for me and within two months my hemoglobin returned to normal, but I continue to take them regularly for a year to maintain a healthy iron level in my body.
Awareness Helps You Recognize If You Are at Risk for Anemia
In addition to the symptoms I experienced – headache, fatigue, dizziness and a pale complexion – anemia also causes irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, chest pain, trouble concentrating and cold hands and feet.
Protein foods like meat, poultry and fish are the best sources of iron. However, if you are a vegetarian, take more iron than a normal person (but check with your doctor first) and eat and drink foods rich in vitamin C, such as orange juice, strawberries and broccoli, to help your body absorb the iron.
If you are undergoing menopausal hormone therapy (MHT), you are postmenopausal with no MHT or you use an IUD for birth control, your risks are higher for developing anemia.
I am thriving since the successful treatment of my anemia. My heavy menstrual bleeding was corrected, which allowed my body to regulate my red blood cell production. In conjunction with the dietary and supplement changes I maintain, I feel stronger and more vital than ever.